FILE PHOTO: Steam billows from the cooling towers of Jaenschwalde coal power station near Cottbus
JOHANNESBURG - Non-governmental organisation Earthlife Africa wants the high court in Pretoria to review and set aside the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ environmental authorisation of the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station.

The Thabametsi independent power producer (IPP) plant, based in the Waterberg area in Limpopo, faces stiff opposition from environmental groupings concerned about the harmful effect of emissions from the project.

The Thabametsi power station will have a capacity of up to 1200MW and will be developed in two phases of 600MW each.

The Department of Energy in 2016 announced Thabametsi and Khanyisa power plants in Mpumalanga as the preferred bidders in the government's Coal Baseload independent power producer (IPP) procurement programme, the country’s first baseload programme which allows the private sector to generate energy using coal resources. Eskom will buy the power from the IPPs.

In a fresh bid to block the Thabametsi project, Earthlife Africa director Makoma Lekalakala last week filed an affidavit at the high court in Pretoria in which she challenged the project's environmental authorisation, granted in 2015 by the Department of Environmental Affairs. Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa has so far dismissed the organisation's appeals.


In the application, Earthlife said Molewa had relied on the integrated resource plan for electricity 2010-2030 (IRP 2010) in her dismissals.

“The minister's reliance on the IRP 2010 resulted in her failing to take into account relevant considerations,” said Lekalakala.

She said Molewa did not assess the social cost of Thabametsi’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the insufficient assessment of the risk of water scarcity, insufficient assessment of the impacts of the power station on the surrounding area's climate resilience, and the inadequacy of the mitigation measures.

In the application, Earthlife said the IRP 2010 was outdated. The Department of Energy was yet to publish a revised plan. The organisation said unlike in 2010 South Africa now had excess capacity. “In January 2017, Eskom confirmed that it had a surplus of 5 600MW at peak and could meet any increase in demand until 2021.

“The factual premises upon which the IRP 2010 was based no longer persist,” said Lekalakala. She said the outdated IRP 2010 could not be relied on to reflect South Africa's current electricity needs.

In a presentation at National Energy Regulator of South Africa’s (Nersa’s) hearings on the IPPs electricity generation licences last week, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) said any decision to grant Thabametsi and Khanyisa electricity generation licences was premature.

CER said Nersa could not rely on the outdated 2010 IRP.