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

COMMENT

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 Earth life Africa, the Centre for Environmental Rights and ground Work) 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 Coal is an outdated and dirty technology, and the environmental and health costs of coal have not been adequately factored into electricity planning.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.”


READ MORE: South Africa has a new energy plan

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

Melita Steele is climate and energy campaign manager with Greenpeace Africa

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