The government's new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019) has forced in 1500MW of "dangerous, expensive and unnecessary" new coal based electricity, which violates the Constitution.
In a statement issued today after the release of the country's long-overdue energy blueprint for the next decade, the Life After Coal Campaign and Greenpeace Africa said they were "appalled" at the inclusion of new coal-based electricity: 750 MW in 2023 and another 750 MW in 2027.
"This is an addition of 500 MW since the last draft made available to the public in August 2018."
The intensifying climate strikes and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres' repeated appeal for "no new coal power plants after 2020" serve as a stark warning to SA.
"The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) must be prioritised if we are to have any hope of addressing the existential threat of climate change. The President promised action to address the climate crisis, but this final IRP suggests that this promise was empty," the organisations said.
The IRP2019, the environmental justice organisations maintained, "wilfully ignores" all evidence that there is no need for new coal in the future electricity mix. "It does not form part of a least-cost electricity plan for South Africa."
SA, the groups stated, faces trillions in transition risk costs from the delays in sufficiently and timeously tackling the move away from fossil fuels.
"The IRP could – and should - be a golden opportunity to clearly delineate a Just Transition path for the country. Bold and decisive action is required to eliminate electricity sources that exacerbate our country’s triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment."
Yesterday, the government said the IRP2019 supports a diversified energy mix including coal, nuclear, renewable energy and gas.
Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said that while coal’s installed capacity will be lower than the current installed base, it will remain the dominant energy supply contributing 59% of the energy volumes required to meet demand.
Nuclear will contribute 5 %; hydro 8%; photovoltaic 6%, wind 18% and gas and storage 2%.
The IRP2019 states that for the "foreseeable future and beyond Medupi and Kusile", coal will continue to play a significant role in the electricity generation in SA, as it is the largest base of the installed generation capacity and it makes up the largest share of energy generated.
"Due to the design life of the existing coal fleet and the abundance of coal resources, new investments will need to be made in more efficient coal technologies to comply with climate and environmental requirements."
The energy sector contributes nearly 80% towards the country's total GHG emissions, "of which 50% is from electricity generation and liquid fuel production". SA's vast coal deposits "cannot be sterilised simply because the country has not explored technological innovations that could be be deployed to use this resource in an environmentally sensitive manner," states the IRP2019.
"The timing of the transition to a low-carbon economy must be in a manner that is socially just and sensitive to the potential impacts on jobs and local economies," it states. "It is in this context that engagements at global forums such as the G20 refer to 'energy transitions' and not 'energy transition' as a recognition that countries are different and their energy transition paths will also be different due to varying local conditions."
But the environmental groups argued any new coal capacity will simply add to rising electricity costs and further exacerbate inequality and the economic downturn in SA.
"Coal plants built in the 2020s will be scheduled to run well past any reasonable deadline for zero carbon emissions, and are likely to be abandoned as stranded assets long before they are paid off."
Makoma Lekalakala of Earthlife Africa said there was no reasonable basis to build new coal plants when technology and costs were clearly in favour of renewables and flexible generation.
The effects of the climate crisis - droughts, floods, rising temperatures and fires - already impacted countless lives in southern Africa and cost the fiscus billions, apart from the severe health impacts caused by coal-fired power stations, read the statement.
"A decision to build new coal plants, and thus expose South Africa to further climate risk and impacts, is a clear violation of the Constitutional rights to human dignity, life and an environment not harmful to health and wellbeing," said Robyn Hugo, the programme head for pollution and climate change, at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).
The updated IRP2019 will exacerbate current power cuts, "by its irrational selection of risky coal technologies that cannot contribute to energy security for many years".
“The new IRP is an obvious attempt to serve the few vested interests in the fossil fuel sector, at the expense of many,” said Bobby Peek of groundWork, in the statement.
This will "result in yet more deadly toxic air, while wasting precious water resources and pushing us closer to the brink of complete climate chaos”, said Happy Khambule, of Greenpeace Africa.
The government is already facing legal action, in the landmark “Deadly Air” litigation launched by the CER on behalf of groundWork and Mpumalanga community organisation, Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action, for its failure to protect the health and rights of communities living in the Highveld from the severe air pollution impacts of coal-fired power and industry.
The IRP2019 states that air quality regulations provide that coal power plants under Eskom's fleet, among others, have to meet the country's already weak Minimum Emission Standards "by a certain time or they would be non-compliant and cannot be legally operated".
"The timing of the requirement for existing, non-compliant power stations to be decomissioned must take into account the need to balance energy security, the adverse health impacts of poor air quality and the economic cost associated with the transition," reads the IRP2019.
"Plant closures over non-compliance with environmental regulations should not be confused with imminent plant retirements due to the plant having reached the end of their design life."
Yesterday, the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association welcomed Cabinet’s approval of the IRP2019. "We welcome the allocation of 6000MW of new generation capacity to large scale solar photovoltaics, as well as around 6000MW allocation to embedded generation, through to 2030.
"While the IRP that has been issued is not, strictly speaking, based on a least cost model, we believe that the significant allocation to renewable energy (including a fair amount of solar power) over the next decade will bode well for the industry ...We will continue to engage the Minister to find mechanisms to smooth out the gaps presented in 2024, 2026 and 2027, where no solar PV is envisaged to be added to the grid," it said.
Mantashe said nuclear power was a "source of clean energy that can reduce emissions". The IRP2019 states how globally there is a move towards the development of small modular reactors that are "considered more manageable investment when compared to a large fleet approach".
Illustrating the example of the failed Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, Earthlife Africa's Lekalakala said this was an irresponsible move. "Every time there is load shedding, we are blackmailed. It seems like a ploy to accept these bad decisions that are being made."
Mantashe said indigenous gas like coal-bed methane and ultimately local recoverable shale and coastal gas "are options we are considering".
The IRP2019 makes provision for gas from 2024.
The plan also cites how SAhas entered into a treaty for the development of the Grand Inga Project, a hydropower mega project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"Some of the power is intended for transmission to South Africa across DRC, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana ... The potential for intra-SADC trade is huge as it could open up economic trade," the document states.
"It's a disaster," remarked Lekalakala, " a while elephant in Africa. The World Bank has pulled out of Inga 3, which tells us it's something we can not support. It's throwing money down the drain."
International Rivers, too, has slated the inclusion of Inga 3 in the IRP2019. Last year, Parliament concluded that Inga 3 should not be included in any future energy plans because of the fiscal, practical and socio-economic risks it presents to both South Africans and Congolese.
The NGO said an academic modelling study by researchers at the University of California estimated that the Inga 3 project will cost South African consumers R4.3 billion per year.
"This is not accounting for the fact that estimates of the cost overruns fall between $2 billion and in the worst case up to $10 billion. The investment in the Inga Project comes at the cost of investment in our local renewable energy industry. Eskom will need to retrench workers as the restructuring proceeds. Excluding Inga 3 from the energy mix provides an opportunity to grow jobs and skills development in our local energy sector.
"South Africa needs growing sectors to absorb the growing unemployed population, reskilling many in the process. The nation’s limited resources are better invested in domestic renewable energy."
Megaprojects like this, it said, provide fertile ground for corruption. "In 2015, then-President Kabila undermined the prospects of transparency and accountability by placing the Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project directly under the control of the Presidency. This political interference resulted in the World Bank withdrawing from the project in 2016," said International Rivers.
"Every phase of Inga has been dogged by lengthy delays. This phase was expected to begin producing power in 2020 or 2021. This was moved back to 2024 or 2025.
"There is no way to guarantee that the project will not face further delays, especially taking into account the volatility of the region and the known delays inherent in a project of this magnitude."
There were risks for cross-country grid construction, transmission challenges and the "uncertainty of the actual output we can reliably expect.
"The first two phases have produced only 40% of their planned capacity. We don’t know that Inga will ever provide the power we should be getting from it."
The construction of the dam will displace 30 000 people in the DRC, with no guarantee of resettlement.
"Tens of thousands of people have still not been properly resettled during construction of the first two phases of the project despite efforts by communities and NGOs.
"South Africa’s Constitution also enshrines environmental rights but no environmental impact assessments have been completed for the project. Compounding the rights violation is the fact that this project is being overseen by a government with a reputation for violent repression of dissent.
"South Africa’s continued support for Inga 3 is therefore inconsistent with its constitutional commitment to the rule of law, human dignity and freedom for all," it said.