Eskom granted exemption to speed up Kusile Power Station’s return to service, but at a cost to the environment
The South African government has granted Eskom, the country’s power utility, an exemption to speed up the return to service of the Kusile Power Station. The exemption was granted by Barbara Creecy, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, in response to Eskom’s application for a temporary solution to restore the lost generation capacity at Kusile while a damaged stack undergoes repairs.
The temporary solution proposed by Eskom involves the construction of temporary stacks by November 2023, which is anticipated to allow the resumption of generation capacity of 2,100MW, potentially by the end of the year, rather than in 2024. This would reduce the country’s exposure to load shedding by two levels. However, this would also mean that Eskom would pump more damaging Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) into the air, leading to an increase in SO2 emissions during the 13-month period.
While Eskom has been granted an exemption from the lengthy process required to amend its Atmospheric Emission License, subject to certain strict conditions, this decision is not without consequences. Eskom will need to apply to the National Air Quality Officer for a once-off postponement with the compliance timeframes for minimum emission standards for new plants. The once-off postponement with the compliance timeframes for minimum emission standards for new plants can only be valid until 31 March 2025, in terms of the applicable regulations.
Minister Creecy acknowledges the well-documented socio-economic impacts of load shedding, which have had far-reaching socio-economic consequences for all South Africans. However, she is equally aware of the health and associated impacts of exposure to sulphur dioxide emissions, particularly on communities in close proximity to coal-fired power stations. In the light of the competing factors, the decision to grant an exemption has not been an easy one.
The exemption is subject to several conditions, including a public participation process within a curtailed timeframe of 14 days, independent health screenings for employees and surrounding communities, and accounting to Minister Creecy and the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment in the National Assembly on the progress of its repair to the west stack.
While the exemption will alleviate the electricity crisis in the country, it comes at a cost to the environment. It is now up to Eskom to mitigate the impact of its temporary solution and ensure that the conditions imposed by the government are met.