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Molewa fights green groups

Feb 18 2018 09:04
Sizwe Sama Yende

Green organisations accuse Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa of using outdated information about the country’s energy needs to grant authorisation for a new coal power station.

One of the reasons Molewa gave for granting the authorisation for the establishment of the 1 200 megawatt Thabametsi power station in Lephalale, Limpopo, was that the integrated resource plan (IRP) for electricity included a mix of generation technologies in addition to existing and committed power plants.

“Having carefully balanced all relevant factors [including the threat of climate change], the final IRP 2010 to 2030 does not prohibit the establishment of new, coal-fired power stations.

“Rather, it permits that 6.3 gigawatts of new generation capacity may be derived from coal,” Molewa said in the record of decision released to City Press this week and dated January 30.

“Concerns about the threat of climate change and the need for greater reliance on renewable energy were raised in the public participation process.

“These considerations were taken into account by decision-makers during the development of the IRP … Ultimately, the decision makers concluded the harm that would result from the establishment of new coal-fired facilities to generate an additional 6.3GW was outweighed by the benefit to the country of having old-energy generation capacity,” she said.

Last year a coalition of environmental organisations, Life after Coal, took Molewa to the Pretoria High Court for granting the environmental authorisation to Thabametsi without a climate change assessment having been conducted.

Judge John Murphy ordered Molewa to consider a climate impact assessment report, a paleontological report and comments on these reports from interested and affected parties before granting an environmental authorisation for Thabametsi.

Molewa granted Thabametsi a new environmental authorisation despite advice from EOH Coastal and Environmental Services, which conducted a peer review of Thabametsi’s climate change impact assessment and found it still indicated that the significant risk to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be very high.

Life after Coal is exploring legal avenues to reverse the minister’s environmental authorisation.

Groundwork’s director, Bobby Peek, said Molewa used the 2010 IRP before a new one was finalised.

“That IRP is outdated by a decade,” Peek said. “It is based on 2008 information before the global economic crash and the demand for electricity has not increased.

“Clearly the minister is in a catch-22. It is not the environmental organisations that say the Thabametsi power station is problematic, the independent assessment indicated that it would produce high volumes of GHG emissions,” Peek said.

When granting the environmental authorisation, Molewa said: “EOH concludes, however, that while the environmental and social costs associated with the proposed power station are high, this does not necessarily represent a fatal flaw.”

Environmental affairs spokesperson Albie Modise said it was difficult to get hold of the minister to comment because of the transitional political process in the country.

Thabametsi is one of 10 independent power stations that the energy department wants to build to augment Eskom’s power supply.

Thabametsi and Khanyisa, based in Mpumalanga, won the first bid window to build South Africa’s first independent coal-fired power stations last October under the coal independent power producers programme, the first base load energy programme that allows the private sector to provide coal-generated energy.

The green organisations support renewable energy initiatives in the country because of environmental degradation and air pollution associated with coal mining and electricity generation.

Coal power stations have been a scourge in Mpumalanga’s Highveld region where 80% of South Africa’s electricity is generated.

Air pollution accounts for 2 200 deaths a year, according to Groundwork and Friends of the Earth International.

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edna molewa  |  pollution  |  coal  |  power generation
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