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Eskom: Yes, yes … we’re trying!

Eskom has responded to Greenpeace’s coal-dumping protest on Monday morning, insisting it was vigorously implementing renewable energy strategies.

Greenpeace activists disrupted work at Eskom’s Megawatt Park in Johannesburg on Monday morning, to protest against the building of the Kusile and Medupi coal-fired power station.

Greenpeace blocked off one of the entrances to Eskom with five tonnes of coal at dawn and activists held banners calling on Eskom “to clean up its act and stop using coal”.

Melita Steele, Climate and Energy Campaigner for Greenpeace Africa, said the peaceful protest was a call for Eskom to “end its addiction to coal and invest in large-scale renewable energy projects”.

“South Africa is one of the highest producers of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollutants in the world. We demand two things: large scale energy efficiency; and [better] use of advanced renewable energy [resources] such as wind, geothermal and hydro-electricity.”

(Picture: Shayne Robinson, Greenpeace)

Hilary Joffe, spokesperson for Eskom, said: “In principle, we agree with the need to reduce our carbon footprint and government have made promises internationally, to reduce it.”

She said that they had recently received funding from the African Development Bank to invest in a 100MW solar power plant and a 100MW wind farm.

(Picture: Shayne Robinson, Greenpeace)

Steele recognised the wind farm and the solar power plant but said that the projects were very small, which illustrated Eskom’s “lack of commitment”.

She said that a coal-fired power station took about 10 years to build and nuclear stations took almost 20 years before they were fully operational, whereas wind or solar power stations could be built within two years. “Less than 1% of energy in South Africa is being created by renewable energy, whereas coal is used for 90% of electricity generation.”

“Even though renewable energy is an expensive, upfront investment, in the long term it is much cheaper than nuclear or coal.

“Greenpeace Africa is ultimately asking Eskom to invest in people and green jobs, to avert catastrophic climate change.”

(Picture: Andrew Orpen, Greenpeace)

Joffe said both Eskom and the government were working to reduce their dependence on coal to cut coal’s share to 65% and scale up renewable energy to 9% within 20 years. Joffe added that the new coal power stations all use the latest clean coal technology.”

She stressed the importance of energy efficiency. “We are pushing customers to save electricity — just saving 10% already decreases the carbon footprint.”

“The country needs to find a balance between the imperative of supplying reliable, affordable, secure electricity to everyone and the imperative of renewable energy.”

Even though 70% of households have access to electricity, three million households are still in the dark.

Eskom is under pressure to boost capacity and rejuvenate an ageing power grid after electricity shortages led to widespread blackouts in 2008.

Environmental activists are keeping a close eye on South Africa, as it hosts the 17th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in November. — AFP

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Amanda Strydom
Amanda Strydom is the Mail & Guardian online's night editor. With a background in science and journalism, she has a black belt third dan in ballet and, according to a statistical analysis of the past three years, reads 2.73 books every week. She never finishes her tea, although she won't say no to a cupcake. But only just this once.

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