Johannesburg - The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs could consider postponing Eskom’s deadline to comply with air pollution laws to avoid a power crisis that the utility envisioned would surface if it had to comply with new atmospheric emissions licence conditions next year.
Yesterday, the department said it had been advising Eskom about legal provisions that could be used to postpone its compliance with emission standards for its Kriel power plant.
Earlier this week, the utility said it might be forced to shut down five of the six generating units at its Kriel power station in Mpumalanga. This would shut down up to 2 400 megawatts of the station’s generating capacity until the station could be retrofitted in 2017.
The warning came after the Mpumalanga provincial government revised the conditions of the station’s atmospheric emission licence, not allowing it to use a variation order for compliance exceptions as a permanent feature any longer.
The department said if Eskom or any other company applied for the postponement of its compliance time frames, its minimum emissions limits could be postponed for five years. However, there was no option for companies to get full exemption from requirements to comply with their licence.
If Eskom applied, a decision would be made in line with the department’s constitutional mandate, the department said.
Mayihlome Tshwete, the spokesman for the minister of public enterprises, said deliberations to postpone Eskom’s compliance had been going on for some time between Eskom, the Mpumalanga government and the departments of Public Enterprises, Energy, and Water and Environmental Affairs.
Tshwete said he was puzzled as to why Eskom had jumped the gun and did not wait to see what the outcome would be.
“I’m not sure what their intention was because a plan is under way to resolve this issue. We have been explaining to Eskom and Brian [Dames, the Eskom chief executive] that this is where the deliberations are. There is an appreciation of the current situation. Even the provincial bodies do understand it and they are willing to assist. But that doesn’t mean they will do things outside of the law,” Tshwete said.
Environmental NGOs have said Eskom was easily getting away with not complying and was not seriously considering its options when it came to reducing emissions.
“Eskom should not use the tight supply margin as a bargaining chip to be allowed to pollute more. Instead, renewable energy projects should be fast tracked. And at the very most, Greenpeace believes that Eskom should be given a postponement of not more than five years to comply with the relevant legislation,” Greenpeace energy campaigner Melita Steele said.
Robyn Hugo, a lawyer from the Centre for Environmental Rights, said the centre had been called on to engage with other stakeholders on the Kriel matter but it needed more time.
She added: “For stakeholders to meaningfully engage and comment on the Kriel variation application, eight days is an unreasonable time frame as required by the Air Quality Act given the need for stakeholders to adequately consult and seek expert advice.”
GroundWork environmental health campaigner and researcher Rico Euripidou said the threat to South Africa’s socioeconomic prospects must be correctly compared with the public benefit when air polluters were forced to adhere to their emission limits.
“The association of an extended ‘dark age’ in relation to emission limits is falsely premised. One could say we are already in a dark age,” he said.
He said the ambient air quality in the areas where the majority of Eskom’s coal-fired stations were located had exceeded the pollution limits for the past five years. - Business Report