Rid South Africa’s elec­tric­ity plan of coal-fired power

Mail & Guardian - - Business - Melita Steele

The in­clu­sion of new coal in the up­dated draft In­te­grated Re­source Plan for elec­tric­ity (IRP) will cost South Africa close to R20-bil­lion more than we need to spend, and will make elec­tric­ity more ex­pen­sive.

If the de­part­ment of en­ergy were to pub­lish the least-cost plan that civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions have been de­mand­ing, it would not in­clude new coal.

Al­low­ing the new coal plants to go ahead would be dis­as­trous for wa­ter re­sources, air qual­ity, health, land and the cli­mate. The truth is that coal kills, and no more money should be go­ing into more coal.

The Life Af­ter Coal Cam­paign (con­sist­ing of Earth­life Africa, the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights and ground­Work) and Green­peace Africa ar­gue that the in­clu­sion of an ad­di­tional 1000MW of new coal-fired power — on top of huge amounts of ex­ist­ing and un­der-con­struc­tion coal — puts the en­ergy de­part­ment in con­flict with the rights en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion, given that there are safer, cleaner and less-ex­pen­sive en­ergy op­tions avail­able.

It is im­por­tant to recog­nise the in­creased em­pha­sis on re­new­able en­ergy, and the po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties that this opens up, but un­less the en­ergy min­is­ter sub­stan­tially amends the draft IRP to en­sure that the con­sti­tu­tional right to a healthy en­vi­ron­ment is pre­served and pro­tected — and specif­i­cally ex­cludes any new coal — the de­part­ment runs the risk of the IRP be­ing chal­lenged in court.

We are now at a tip­ping point when re­new­able en­ergy is clearly the cheap­est and clean­est elec­tric­ity op­tion, and more coal in our elec­tric­ity mix does not make eco­nomic sense. Coal is an out­dated and dirty tech­nol­ogy, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal and health costs of coal have not been ad­e­quately fac­tored into elec­tric­ity plan­ning.

At present, al­most 90% of South Africa’s elec­tric­ity mix con­sists of coal, but many of th­ese plants fail to meet the re­quired emis­sion stan­dards and have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on peo­ple’s health, in­clud­ing pre­ma­ture death.

A 2016 re­port by Bri­tish-based air qual­ity and health ex­pert Dr Mike Hol­land found that air pol­lu­tion from Eskom coal-fired power sta­tions kills more than 2 200 South Africans ev­ery year, and causes bron­chi­tis and asthma. This costs the coun­try more than R33-bil­lion an­nu­ally in hospi­tal ad­mis­sions and lost work­ing days.

In ad­di­tion, coal-fired elec­tric­ity is wa­ter-in­ten­sive. Fur­ther­more, the es­ti­mated costs of re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing old mines and min­ing ar­eas runs into bil­lions of rands.

On Tues­day, in direct re­sponse to the long-awaited re­lease of the draft IRP, Green­peace Africa ac­tivists — in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Life Af­ter Coal Cam­paign — scaled the Nel­son Man­dela Bridge in Jo­han­nes­burg to drop a ban­ner, which read: “More coal. More deaths. No wa­ter.”

The ban­ner drop was a peace­ful but ur­gent call to En­ergy Min­is­ter Jeff Radebe to make sure that the fi­nal IRP does not in­clude new coal and clearly pri­ori­tises re­new­able en­ergy in­stead of fos­sil fu­els.

As we mark the cen­te­nary of the birth of Nel­son Man­dela, his be­lief in the re­al­i­sa­tion of hu­man rights is re­flected in the ur­gent need for af­ford­able elec­tric­ity for all, com­bined with the right to a healthy en­vi­ron­ment and the right to wa­ter.

Our elec­tric­ity plan helps to set the agenda for all of th­ese but an un­just plan con­tin­ues to put peo­ple’s hu­man rights at risk.

It is cru­cial that South Africa’s fu­ture elec­tric­ity plan is least-cost and in the pub­lic in­ter­est.

All South Africans — in­clud­ing coal work­ers and the un­em­ployed — must be part of the process to en­sure a just en­ergy tran­si­tion

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