Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, has stated that the state of disaster declared to address the energy crisis will not result in environmental laws being swept aside. Speaking at a briefing on the national state of disaster on energy, Creecy confirmed that the environmental authorisation decision-making process would not be exempt from environmental law. While acknowledging that there may be instances where exemptions are required, the department will deal with them on a case-by-case basis, seeking legal advice on how to shorten timeframes for decision-making.
The primary approach of the department is to expedite decision-making around environmental applications, licences and permissions. This is applied to Strategic Infrastructure Projects, where the decision-making process for Environmental Impact Assessment has been shortened from 107 days to 57 days. The department aims to apply these shortened timelines more generally to respond to the energy crisis. Applications regarding the state of disaster that require an Environmental Impact Assessment would be brought to the “front of the queue”, and the public participation process would be shortened from 14 days to 30 days.
The department is developing regulations to expedite registration processes for large solar PV projects and battery storage in areas of low environmental sensitivity. Eskom has not applied for any exemptions at present, including an application to operate flue gas desulphurisation, which removes sulphur dioxide emissions at the Kusile power station. However, the power utility’s board has finalised the exemption application and will submit it soon.
Acting CEO of Eskom, Calib Cassiem, stated that the state of disaster would not result in increased load shedding hours for customers. The aim is to reduce load shedding stages. Treasury’s takeover of R254 billion of Eskom’s debt will allow the power utility to release capital expenditure across generation, transmission and distribution and shorten lead times for procurement of necessary components in the generation space. Cassiem believes there should be no excuse as to why load shedding cannot be reduced going forward.