The ink on the Paris climate agreement has not yet dried, but already there is huge concern that South Africa’s biggest polluter will not be able to keep its promise to become greener.
Power utility Eskom, which is responsible for almost half of South Africa’s harmful greenhouse gas emissions, warns in its latest annual report that it will cost a whopping R134 billion to make its coal-powered stations more environmentally friendly.
The emissions reduction programme, which is enforced by the department of environmental affairs and tourism, requires Eskom to introduce expensive equipment and technology to radically decrease air and environmental pollution at nine of its coal-powered stations.
In addition to the costs involved, the plans will force each of the generating units at these power stations to be out of commission for 120 to 150 days for the equipment and technology to be installed.
“The requirements remain an onerous challenge for us to meet,” Eskom said in the report.
Yet the state-owned power utility clearly understands the consequences of not complying with the department’s prescriptions.
“Noncompliance comes at the risk of criminal prosecution and our licence to operate being revoked,” Eskom said in the report.
The power utility also said it could only start with the emissions reduction programme in 2018, when there would be enough spare capacity in the electricity network to deal with shutdowns at the power plants.
James-Brent Styan, author of Blackout: The Eskom Crisis, said it was pointless for the government to sign the Paris accord when the country’s biggest polluter could not comply with the targets set in the pact.
Eskom, which is responsible for almost half of SA’s harmful greenhouse gas emissions, warns in its latest report that it will cost a whopping R134bn to make its coal-powered stations more environmentally friendly
“The immediate impact is that Eskom needs R134 billion to green its power stations. But it did not budget for this and it’s clear it does not have money to carry it out,” he said.
An additional headache for Eskom is the fact that the “green” technology to be installed at power stations like Kusile in Mpumalanga will require a lot of water.
“Given ... the fact that there are no new or unallocated water resources in Mpumalanga, it is simply not feasible to fully comply with the emission standards...” the Eskom report stated.
Styan said each of the six new units at Medupi in Limpopo would require 8 million litres of water daily to make the gas emissions cleaner.
“You know what it looks like at Lephalale. Where is the water going to come from?” asked Styan.
Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said the adjustments of the power stations would happen in phases.
“The R134 billion is the money we need to retrofit all the power stations that require retrofitting [technology like air filters]. The money will have to be budgeted for, meaning that the retrofitting process will be phased in,” explained Phasiwe.
He said Eskom was prepared to comply with the environmental regulations, but warned that lengthy closures to install the new equipment would put a significant strain on the electricity network.
“We will have to find a balance between meeting the minimum emission standards targets and the requirement to keep the lights on,” said Phasiwe.
Roopa Singh, spokesperson for the department of environmental affairs, said Eskom was legally obliged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.
“In its applications for postponement of compliance time frames [in terms of the minimum emission standards], Eskom presented emission-reduction plans to the department for each power station seeking postponement,” said Singh.
“Eskom is under strict obligations [to keep to] its commitments in the emission-reduction plans submitted to the department,” she added.