Good news for Kusile repairs and fixing two stages of load-shedding

Environmental affairs minister Barbara Creecy has announced that her department exempted Eskom from amending its Atmospheric Emission License, subject to certain strict conditions.

Creecy explained that amending the licence would be lengthy, and Eskom’s application is specifically about quickly restoring lost power generation capacity.

Her department granted the exemption under Section 59 of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act (NEMAQA) on 14 March 2023.

“Eskom’s request pertains to a temporary solution to restore lost generation capacity at its Kusile Power Station while a damaged stack undergoes repairs which are due for completion in December 2024,” Creecy stated.

“In the interim, Eskom plans to construct the temporary stacks by November 2023, which it anticipates will allow the resumption of generation capacity of 2,100MW, which will reduce the country’s exposure to load shedding by two levels.”

Creecy explained the interim solution envisages that Eskom will operate Kusile’s temporary stacks for 13 months without using flue gas desulphurisation.

This will likely cause increased sulphur dioxide emissions during this period exceeding the current applicable limit contained in Kusile’s Atmospheric Emission License.

She said Eskom must now apply to the National Air Quality Officer for a once-off postponement with the compliance timeframes for minimum emission standards for new plants.

This once-off postponement with the compliance timeframes can only be valid until 31 March 2025.

Kusile power station flue ducts

Creecy said she is aware of the well-documented impacts of load-shedding, which have had far-reaching socio-economic consequences for all South Africans.

“I am equally aware of the health and associated impacts of exposure to sulphur dioxide emissions, particularly on communities in close proximity to coal-fired power stations,” said the Minister.

“In the light of the competing factors, I have been called on to make an extraordinarily difficult decision.”

Accordingly, the exemption has been granted in terms of section 59(1) of NEMAQA subject to the following conditions:

  • Eskom must issue a public notice in two national newspapers explaining reasons for their application
  • Eskom must conduct a public participation process subject to a curtailed timeframe of 14 days
  • Eskom must account to Minister Creecy and the Portfolio Committee on Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment in the National Assembly on the progress of its repair to the west stack
  • Eskom must undertake measures to mitigate against the exposure of its employees and surrounding communities to harm which, at a minimum, must include independent health screenings and referral to appropriate public health facilities for treatment where necessary
Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter with President Cyril Ramaphosa during a guided tour of Tutuka power station in 2022. Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan and energy minister Gwede Mantashe are standing behind them.

Former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter previously warned that if Eskom were forced to conform to South Africa’s environmental regulations, it would have to immediately implement stage 15 load-shedding.

It’s important to note that De Ruyter made these comments at a time when Eskom wasn’t implementing constant load-shedding.

De Ruyter said Eskom’s existing coal power stations do not meet minimum emissions standards, leaving the power utility with a choice: spend roughly R300 billion to retrofit them with equipment to clean their emissions, or decommission them.

This projected cost is too great for Eskom to take on, and even if it could, it would lead to increased electricity tariff hikes.

With retrofitting off the table, Eskom would have to shut down 16 gigawatts (GW) of capacity immediately, and 30GW by 2025.

Each stage of load-shedding represents roughly a gigawatt of power that must be shed.

Eskom’s installed generating capacity is around 44GW, of which 38GW is coal.

It would therefore need to shut down 42% of its coal power stations immediately and 79% by 2025.

Eskom’s Kusile power plant flue gas duct failed

Three of Kusile’s generating units are currently offline after flue gas ducts became clogged with debris, causing one to collapse due to the extra weight.

An internal report by the utility’s assurance and forensics department found that Eskom management’s instruction to increase the load of unit 1 to full capacity against the advice of engineers was to blame.

The report alleges that “unnamed bosses” at Megawatt Park gave verbal instructions to return the unit to service and operate it at its maximum capacity of 800MW.

This was despite a faulty critical component causing a cement-like sludge to build up inside the flue-gas duct.

The collapse occurred around mid-October, but the South African public only learned about the extent of the catastrophe when journalists were sent photos and began circulating them at the start of November.

At the time, Eskom warned that Kusile unit 1 could be offline for months, unit 2 tripped, and unit 3 was brought offline as a precaution.

However, it later emerged that all three units would have to remain offline for repairs, taking over two stages of generating capacity off the grid.

Eskom’s plan to fast-track repairs involves installing temporary flues. The first unit will take more than eight months to complete.

The second and third units will take an additional month each to be returned to the grid, for a ten-month total repair time.

In 2021, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported that Eskom had become the world’s biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide, a pollutant linked to ailments ranging from asthma to heart attacks.

In a study released in January 2023, the Finland-based think tank reported that air pollution from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations could kill 79,500 people between 2025 and when they are due to be decommissioned.

Now read: Eskom load-shedding hits DStv

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Good news for Kusile repairs and fixing two stages of load-shedding