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Green power on collision course with CSIR

May 28 2017 06:00
Sizwe Sama Yende

Organisations campaigning against the continuous use of coal-powered energy are on a collision course with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) over its latest study.

Life after Coal – whose members include environmental activists such as the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and groundWork – feels that the CSIR’s energy research was inadequate, as it glossed over the cost of coal to health, water resources and the environment.

The activists want the country to ditch coal-based energy and mining altogether because of the well-known negative impacts such as human sicknesses, acid water drainage and air pollution.

Although Life after Coal described the CSIR’s research as a “comprehensive alternative” to the draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) Base Case published for comment by the department of energy (DoE) in November 2016, it believes that it should have taken into account the negative impact of coal and its cost to the country.

“We argue that even the CSIR’s alternative IRP, which fundamentally challenges the DoE’s base case scenario for the IRP, does not go far enough – neither of these documents puts forward adequately or at all takes into account the costs of coal mining and coal-fired power generation on health, water resources and destruction of the land,” said Robyn Hugo, head of the CER’s Pollution and Climate Change Programme.

“If these costs are included, the need to move away from coal is more urgent than either the DoE or the CSIR contend,” Hugo said.

Life after Coal does agree that the CSIR’s report favoured an energy plan that preferred renewable energy, supplemented by storage and gas – with no new coal or nuclear plants.

“These outcomes confirm the position of the Life After Coal campaign and Greenpeace Africa that there should be no new investment in coal-fired power plants, and that a just transition to renewable energy should be prioritised. However, it is important to note both the DoE’s and CSIR’s reports fail to adequately take into account the health and water cost of existing and new investments in coal. This is a fundamental flaw…” said Hugo.

CSIR spokesperson Tendani Tsedu avoided responding to Life after Coal’s concern and referred City Press to the report, which does not explain how much coal is costing the country.

The environmentalists say that the total quantifiable economic cost of air pollution from coal-fired generation in South Africa is in the region of R33 billion per year.

This, they say, is made up of impacts causing early death, chronic bronchitis, respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and a variety of minor conditions leading to restrictions on daily activity, including lost productivity.

“These health impacts are likely most severe on the more disadvantaged members of society, particularly those whose underlying health condition is worst”, said Hugo.

A 2012 study conducted on the external health and environmental costs of supplying coal to the Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga indicated a conservative annual damages cost of R10.5 million, with a high annual damages cost of R15 million.

A 2014 report on the health impacts and social costs of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations concluded that atmospheric emissions from those stations were then causing an estimated 2 200 premature deaths per year, due to exposure to fine particulate matter. This, said the report, included approximately 200 deaths of young children. The economic cost to society was estimated at R30 billion per year, including those of treating the neurotoxic effects of mercury on children.

“Neither the CSIR nor the DoE has included in their calculations the full costs of coal mining and power generation on South Africa’s precious freshwater resources. This includes coal mining, coal washing, post-mine acid mine drainage and acid rain,” Hugo said.

In spite of Eskom’s older coal-powered plants not complying with air pollution standards, and that the state-owned enterprise cannot afford to upgrade them to compliance levels, it is considering extending the lives of these plants.

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