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Ageing power stations are wasting vast amounts of water

Oct 02 2016 10:25
Dominique Doyle and Ulrich Steenkamp

Medupi Power Station’s Unit 6 was scheduled to be synchronised at midday on December 24, but ultimately only got going in March. If the current strike at the power station continues for much longer, the rest of the units will come

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The City of Johannesburg has suddenly become terribly concerned about water security, leading it to implement level 2 water restrictions.

Households must, the city says, immediately reduce water use by at least 15%. This means that households may not use hosepipes to wash cars or clean pavements, or use municipal water to fill swimming pools.

In addition, heavy-consuming households can expect a 10% to 30% increase in their water bills each month.

Little attention has been given to industry, agriculture or power generation.

These new rules have been set against a context where one small environmental justice organisation, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, has been demanding answers to the city’s irresponsible water use for months.

In fact, Earthlife has been demanding answers from the city to no avail, particularly on the amount of water used and wasted by the coal-fired Kelvin Power Station in Kempton Park, eastern Johannesburg.

Not only do ageing coal-fired power stations – such as Kelvin, which is one of the oldest in the country – use 45 million litres of water per hour, they are also the primary reason behind climate change.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a structural drought leading to agricultural loss, food price hikes, immigration, increased disease and increased unemployment.

It is a no-brainer then that the City of Johannesburg should examine the real culprit of water loss first: coal-fired power stations such as Kelvin.

Yet, the water use at Kelvin remains a mystery, even to the city itself. It appears that no one can, or is willing to, give Earthlife any answers.

In addition, Kelvin has a 20-year preferential price and water supply agreement with the city, which will last until 2021.

READ: Eskom at fault, yet Khumalos must pay for free electricity

Earthlife has been campaigning for years for the City of Johannesburg to close the filthy Kelvin Power Station down for good, and to replace it with clean and sustainable renewable energy.

Recently, the environmental justice organisation, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, wrote to the City of Johannesburg demanding to know the following:

. Who is the current owner of the Kelvin Power Station?

. At what price does Kelvin sell electricity to City Power?

. What percentage of City Power’s electricity does Kelvin provide?

. What will the position be once the agreement between City Power and Kelvin terminates in 2021?

. At what price does Johannesburg Water sell water to Kelvin Power Station?

. How much water does Johannesburg Water supply to Kelvin?

. By how much does the City of Johannesburg subsidise Kelvin Power Station?

READ: Eskom hits back at Treasury over coal deals

The City refused to answer the questions posed and insisted that the organisation make use of requests in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The act requests were made and the deadline for the city to respond was August 29. The city has subsequently requested more time to provide the information.

A lot of work needs to be done to educate South African people, and the people of Gauteng, on the true meaning of environmentalism.

South Africa is fast on track to becoming one of the most polluted countries in the world, and if citizens don’t look outside their own back yards first to protect their constitutional rights to live in an environment that is clean and not detrimental to their health, we are doomed.

Doyle and Steenkamp are with Earthlife Africa Johannesburg. Visit earthlife.org.za

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