Eskom has warned that the rejection of its request for higher air pollution limits by South Africa’s environment department could see more than a third of its power generation capacity shut down.
The state-owned utility that supplies nearly all of the country’s electricity said that a refusal to allow it to delay meeting new emissions limits at several of its plants would mean it would need to spend more than R300 billion ($ 19 billion) to meet the requirements. The company, which has a debt of 400 billion rand, will appeal to the environment, public companies and energy departments, on the decision.
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The result “will have a significant negative impact on the economy and employment,” Eskom said in an emailed statement Tuesday. It would rather spend money on renewable power plants than upgrade old coal plants with pollution reduction technology, the company said.
Eskom is the world’s largest emitter of sulfur dioxide, a pollutant linked to ailments ranging from asthma to heart attacks, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. It accounts for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in South Africa, the world’s twelfth largest producer of climate-warming fumes, and produces other pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
The utility is already struggling to meet energy demand in Africa’s most industrialized economy, holding back potential economic growth.
South Africa’s National Air Quality Officer Thuli Khumalo criticized their attempts to reduce air pollution.
“Eskom has made minimal effort to fully comply with the standards,” it said in a letter notifying its decision, which was made on October 30. Granting the requests would be illegal, Khumalo said.
Eskom had tried to be allowed to emit up to 4,000 milligrams of sulfur dioxide per normal cubic meter at Medupi, one of the two new coal facilities, until 2030. Instead, it was told to stick to an already agreed time limit. of 3,500 milligrams and eventually meet a limit of 1,000 milligrams. That limit is higher than that of China and India, the world’s two largest producers of electricity from coal.
Eskom’s requests for postponements at the Medupi, Matla, Duvha and Lethabo plants were rejected, he said. Applications were partially approved for Tutuka, Majuba, Kendal and Kriel, and accepted for the Grootvlei, Camden, Hendrina and Komati coal-fired power plants. A request to delay compliance was also granted at the Acacia and Port Rex natural gas facilities.
Approvals were only granted for plants slated to close in 2030.
South Africa has been sued by environmental groups over pollution from Eskom and the petrochemical company Sasol Ltd. The ruling in the case was reserved earlier this year.
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