Mail & Guardian

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

- 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 Coal is an outdated and dirty technology, and the environmen­tal and health costs of coal have not been adequately factored into electricit­y planning.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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