Sun and wind for Africa, yet we go for coal

South Africa has pledged to lower its carbon emissions by 42% by 2025. Half of these emissions come from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations.

Renewable energy farms have shown that carbon-free energy generation is possible, thanks to the country’s wealth of wind and sunlight. But the energy department this week gave preferred bidder status to two new coal-fired power stations.

The two, Khanyisa and Thabametsi, will add 863MW of electricity to the national grid in the next five years. They are part of the energy department’s independent power procurement programme.

This borrows from the success of the renewable energy programme, which gave winners of the bid 20-year contracts to sell their electricity at a set price. Such ventures have brought in nearly R200‑billion in foreign investment, with 2 000MW of the proposed 6 000MW already connected to the grid.

The R40-billion it will cost to build the new coal plants has been raised, with a quarter of the money coming from the government through the Industrial Development Corporation, the Public Investment Corporation and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

This investment shows the government is failing in its climate pledges, according to an alliance of environmental groups. Life After Coal warned: “The long-term environmental liabilities created by coal mining and power make any further investment in coal infrastructure a high-risk proposition.”

The plants are being built in areas where air quality is already poor. Khanyisa will go up in Mpumalanga, where most of Eskom’s coal-fired stations operate. Several Mail & Guardian investigations have linked these plants to poor air quality for the local population. Thabametsi will be built in Limpopo.

That the new plants are slated to be built is because the government is using an outdated energy plan from 2010. This was drawn up before the local renewable build dramatically lowered the price of electricity from wind and solar. It was also before the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which obliges countries to lower their carbon emissions. 

Sipho Kings

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