Greenpeace slams Eskom for compliance hesitancies
Publish date: 10 September 2019
Issue Number: 622
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Cash-strapped Eskom could be forced to shut some plants if it fails to reduce emissions, its Chief Operating Officer warned last week, raising the spectre of more blackouts, says a TimesLIVE report. The potential closures, which Jan Oberholzer said could cut a tenth of the state firm's 45 000MW production capacity, piles pressure on the government which has had to bail out the debt-ridden company to keep it afloat. Installing the technology needed to reduce carbon and sulphur emissions would cost 10 times the R26bn the Treasury has earmarked for Eskom in the financial year ending in March 2020, part of a R59bn two-year package. That package is on top of a R23bn-a-year bailout for the next three years. ‘If we were to press a button today and solve all these (emissions) troubles, it would cost us R300bn. But as you know we do not have money,’ Eskom's acting CEO and chair Jabu Mabuza told reporters. Eskom has therefore applied to the Department of Environmental Affairs for rolling postponements of its obligations to meet the emissions and air standards. ‘If we don't fix this and reduce our emissions, there's a risk that we have to shut down some of the power stations,’ Oberholzer said. ‘Have we done the work we said we would? No we haven't.’ He did not say when Eskom's failure to meet emissions requirements might trigger plant closures.
Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile power stations are experiencing defects, which will take two years to fix, says a Business Day report. Oberholzer said the exhaust temperature from the two mega coal-fired power stations was too high and has a negative effect on everything downstream. Oberholzer said this would not further delay Medupi and Kusile, which were scheduled for completion in 2020 and 2023 respectively. Fixing the defects would continue in parallel and possibly beyond completion, he said. The two power stations – with a combined capital cost of over R300bn – are the single biggest drivers behind Eskom’s unsustainable debt levels, which have reached R450bn. Asked who would foot the bill for the defects, Mabuza said it was challenging to have a dispute with a contractor over liability when they were still required to fix the problem. In order to not hinder progress, Eskom is opting to have the contractor go ahead with the work while the question of culpability and liability is thrashed out separately. Despite the latent defects, the new power stations were generating power and those units that were already in commercial operation were doing so at 80%-90% of capacity, Mabuza said.
Greenpeace Africa said last week the country cannot be given a ‘so-called choice between load-shedding or toxic air and impending death’ when cheap clean energy options exist. According to an Engineering News report, in response to Oberholzer's comments that blackouts might be an outcome of the utility complying with air quality legislation, Greenpeace said Eskom must either comply with the legislation or close its coal-fired power stations more quickly than planned. ‘Eskom’s COO is in one breath admitting that the utility is not doing what it needs to do to meet weak air quality standards and protect human life, and in the next, blackmailing us all with more load-shedding should Eskom actually take steps to comply,’ said Greenpeace Africa senior climate and energy campaign manager Melita Steele. She noted that renewable energy is more than able to quickly fill the gap; emphasizing, however, that a quick response was imperative. She added that the country must begin to scale up investments in renewable energy and finalise social plans for the closure of the coal-fired power stations as part of the just transition.