Eskom plan to skip pollution equipment not legally feasible
JOHANNESBURG - Eskom Holdings Ltd.’s desire to avoid spending 42 billion rand ($2.4 billion) reducing sulfur dioxide emissions at one of its largest power plants isn’t legally feasible, according to the country’s environmental affairs department.
In addition to getting government approval, South Africa’s biggest air polluter would need to get the World Bank to agree to a breach of the terms of a $3.75 billion loan to avoid installing flue-gas desulfurization equipment at its 4,764 megawatt Medupi coal-fired power plant. Eskom has said that it has had initial discussions with the environmental affairs department about the matter.
“There is no process in the law currently that accommodates refusal/failure to comply with emission standards,” the department said in a response to questions. It said it hasn’t received a formal request from Eskom and hasn’t spoken to the World Bank.
Without the equipment the plant is unlikely to be able to comply with emissions regulations because there is no alternative technology available to cut sulfur dioxide pollution to the same extent. Sulfur dioxide causes respiratory illnesses and acid rain.
The government has already been sued by environmental activists over its failure to curb pollution from Eskom and Sasol Ltd.
The power utility argues that in addition to being expensive, the installation of the equipment at Medupi would increase water consumption, necessitate the use of large quantities of limestone and produce additional carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Eskom’s proposal comes at a time when it is under increasing pressure to improve its environmental performance. The company has been ordered by the environmental ministry to sequentially shut two units of its Kendal power plant to repair broken equipment that’s causing excessive particulate matter emissions and has had to close its Camden plant for three months after an ash dam reached an excessive height.
The company has ordered an internal investigation into its environmental compliance.
Eskom is due to speak to the World Bank this week, according to Fin24, a news website, that cited the utility’s Chief Executive Officer Andre de Ruyter. The power company declined to confirm the date of the meeting and the World Bank didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The utility, which is owned by the government and produces almost all of South Africa’s power, is struggling to service its debt of 454 billion rand.