Eskom allowed to exceed emission limits at Kusile, to reduce load shedding | Business


The Kusile power plant in Mpumalanga.

The Kusile power plant in Mpumalanga.

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, has given Eskom the go-ahead to exceed sulphur dioxide emission limits at the Kusile power station in a bid to alleviate South Africa’s severe electricity crisis.

Subject to several conditions, Creecy on Tuesday exempted Eskom from amending its Atmospheric Emission Licence to reflect these additional emissions from the Kusile, subject to certain strict conditions.

Eskom was granted the exemption – in terms of Section 59 of the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act – in relation to a temporary solution to restore lost generation capacity at Kusile while a damaged stack undergoes repairs which are due for completion in December 2024.

In the interim, Eskom plans to construct the temporary stacks by November 2023, which will be operated without the use of the Flue Gas Desulphurisation mechanism for 13 months.

This will likely result in increased sulphur dioxide emissions during this period, in excess of the current applicable limit in Kusile’s Atmospheric Emission License.

The temporary solution will, however, allow for the resumption of generation capacity of 2 100MW, which will reduce the country’s exposure to load shedding by two levels, Creecy noted.

Creecy said she was aware of the well-documented socioeconomic impacts of load shedding, which have had far-reaching socioeconomic 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,” the minister said. “In the light of the competing factors, I have been called on to make an extraordinarily difficult decision.”

Accordingly, the exemption has been granted subject to several conditions.

Eskom must issue a public notice in two national newspapers explaining reasons for their application, and must also conduct a public participation process subject to a curtailed timeframe of 14 days.

The utility will also have to account to Creecy and the parliamentary portfolio committee on forestry, fisheries and the environment on the progress of its repair to the damaged stack.

Eskom must further take measures to mitigate against the exposure of its employees and surrounding communities to harm. At a minimum, this must include independent health screenings and referral to appropriate public health facilities for treatment where necessary. 

Creecy’s department said Eskom will now need to apply to the National Air Quality Officer for a once-off postponement with the compliance timeframes for minimum emission standards for new plants. The once-off postponement with the compliance timeframes for minimum emission standards for new plants can only be valid until 31 March 2025, in terms of the applicable regulations.

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