Massive load-shedding on the cards after Eskom is denied pollution exemptions

Eskom has warned that the refusal of its applications for pollution exemptions at several coal-fired power stations would have a “very significant impact” on its ability to provide electricity to the country.

“If implemented, the decision will result in an immediate shutting down of 16,000MW of installed coal-fired capacity,” Eskom said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This would have a significant negative impact on the economy and employment, particularly in Mpumalanga and Lephalale, and delay the country’s plans for a just energy transition toward a cleaner electricity supply.”

The state-owned power utility’s statement comes after the environmental department denied permission for Eskom to emit more sulphur dioxide at several of its power stations than is allowed to under current minimum air quality standards.

“Eskom’s request for postponements at Matla, Duvha, Matimba, Medupi and Lethabo were declined completely. Postponement applications for Majuba, Tutuka, Kendal, and Kriel were partially granted,” it stated.

Medupi Power Station

In her refusal letter, National Air Quality Officer (NAQO) Thuli Khumalo said it would be illegal to issue alternative limits for power stations located in priority areas where there was non-compliance with Particulate Matter standards.

In addition, Eskom had failed to demonstrate previous investments to reduce nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide at these two power stations, making the exemption provision inapplicable for the facilities.

Khumalo said Eskom had made minimal effort to fully comply with the standards first published in 2010.

“The NAQO does not have the prerogative to issue decisions that are outside the current legal provisions or are in non-compliance with the law,” Khumalo stated.

She advised Eskom to request the ministers of the various departments mentioned in its original letter to the NAQO to consider factors outside the environmental department’s mandate.

These include the issues of insufficient water, gypsum, and financial costs of implementing the decision, as well as the closure of seven stations and the loss of an associated 19,000MW of supply to the national grid as part of its decommissioning programme.

Matimba power station

South Africa’s pollution rules dictate that Medupi should emit only 500mg/Nm3 [milligrams per standard cubic metres] of sulphur dioxide.

An existing exemption allows the power station to output at seven times this level, at 3,500mg/Nm3, until 2025.

But Eskom wanted to push this limit even higher to 4,000mg/Nm3 and asked that the exemption be extended until 2030.

Eskom requested the same limit for Matimba until its decommissioning, in addition to being allowed to emit nitrogen oxides above legal limits.

Eskom previously said that retrofitting these two power stations with flue gas desulphurisation technology to cut down on the emissions would cost around R55 billion.

Even if this is done, the stations will not fully comply with the emissions standards set by South Africa.

Letters from the National Air Quality Officer to Eskom

Now read: How to save Eskom and South Africa

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Massive load-shedding on the cards after Eskom is denied pollution exemptions