Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
3 minute read
14 Dec 2021
10:52 am

Minimum emission standards will ‘cost’ Eskom thousands of megawatts

Nica Richards

Eskom has applied for numerous postponements, many of which have been rejected.

An aerial view of a coal-fired power station on the Vaal River. Picture: iStock

Proposed minimum emission standards (MES), recently decided on by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, will hurt already embattled Eskom’s dwindling ability to provide electricity to the country. 

As per the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act of 2004, all Eskom power stations must meet MES within a certain time frame. 

But this is estimated to cost Eskom over R300 billion and will cost the national grid 16,000 megawatts of installed coal-fired capacity. 

As such, the utility said it was engaging with the environment department, the Department of Public Enterprises, Department of Minerals and Energy and others to pave a way forward.

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Eskom said in a statement its MES stipulated no one-off postponement would be valid after 31 March 2025, but that a one-off suspension for plants being decommissioned by 31 March 2030 would apply. 

Dodgy air quality 

The utility also said a national air quality officer may grant “an alternate emission limit or emission load if certain conditions are met”.

In 2019 and 2020, Eskom wanted MES suspended or to have limits altered for 16 of its power stations. 

Eskom said it planned to “invest in technology… to reduce emission… [and] move to a cleaner energy mix”.

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The utility also committed to decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2035, along with a host of other toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere thanks to coal-fired operations. 

In addition, Eskom argued at the time they were “generally” complying with ambient air standards.

The Centre for Environmental Rights reports that Eskom’s 15 coal power plants emit around 2,100 tonnes of health-harming sulphur dioxide (SO2) monthly.

New research from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air said Eskom was the world’s largest emitter of SO2, with particularly bad air quality in the Mpumalanga highveld.  

Postponement decisions and just energy transitions

Eskom said it received “positive postponement decisions” from the environment department earlier this month for the Grootvlei, Arnot, Hendrina, Camden, Komati, Acacia and Port Rex plants. 

But applications to postpone MES for the Matla, Duvha, Matimba, Medupi and Lethabo power stations were rejected. 

Majuba, Tutuka, Kendal and Kriel station’s MES postponements were only partially granted to Eskom by the environment department.

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The Komati plant is scheduled to shut down by 2030, and Hendrina before 2025. Acacia and Port Rex will reach their 50-year life in 2026-2027. 

The utility warned that should the environment department go ahead with their MES decisions, this would have “a significant negative impact” on the economy and employment, particularly in Mpumalanga and Lephalale, and delay the country’s plans for a just energy transition toward a cleaner electricity supply. 

It maintained its mandate of providing stable electricity supply to the country in a “sustainable manner”, that also enables economic growth, is a commitment it honours, and that air pollution is taken into consideration, along with South Africa’s climate change commitments. 

“We believe that the just energy transition strategy as proposed by Eskom is a constructive way of transitioning to a cleaner environment, while deploying limited funds to create additional generation capacity, rather than investing money in retrofitting expensive technology at ageing coal-fired plants with a limited remaining life.”