The Presidential Climate Commission has objected to extending coal-fired power stations beyond their natural lifespan. (Waldo Swiegers/Getty Images)
After six decades of producing electricity from coal, Eskom shut down South Africa’s oldest coal power station, the Komati power station.
The power utility said the facility will be transformed into a wind and solar energy production site. “After serving South Africa since 1961, the coal-fired Komati power station has today reached the end of its operating life and has been shut down from midday,” it said in a statement.
Eskom assured South Africans that shutting down Komati would have only a limited effect on electricity supply because its last remaining unit was generating only 121 megawatts.
It is estimated that repurposing Komati with 150MW of solar and 70MW of wind will cost about R6.5-billion, “thereby continuing to put the site and its associated transmission infrastructure to good use and to provide economic opportunities to the community”, read the statement.
The power utility said a micro-grid assembly factory has already been established on the site. It has also given assurances that workers will be reskilled to work in the renewable energy sector.
Just energy transition
According to the statement, this is part of the comprehensive Just Energy Transition Strategy “which places equal importance on the ‘transition to lower carbon technologies’ and the ability to do so in a manner that is ‘just’ and sustainable. The remaining employees will take part in the Komati Repowering and Repurposing project.”
The Komati Power Station in Mpumalanga had nine operational units, each with a capacity of 100MW.
Eskom said it used multiple socioeconomic assessments to determine how to give Komati a second life so that it can continue to support the local economy and people’s livelihoods.
The assessments have shown that if Komati were to shut down, the most vulnerable include farming communities, youth and women. But Eskom said employees at the power station would not be affected by the closure.
“Eskom has transferred the majority of Komati employees from the power station to support and augment skills in other power stations and areas of the business in line with operational requirements. No Eskom employees will lose their jobs because of the closure,” the statement read.
Eskom said Komati had previously been mothballed because of the country’s excess generation capacity in the early 1980s, as well as its age and the high maintenance costs.
“Unit nine was mothballed in 1989. Subsequently, a decision was made to return Komati power station to service, with the refurbishment commencing on August 14 2006. Unit nine was handed over to the generation division on December 24 2008 and declared commercial on January 4 2009,” it said.
The closure comes after Eskom’s discussions with the World Bank regarding funding for the repowering and repurposing of Komati.
“The Komati Repowering and Repurposing project is one of the largest coal-fired power plant decommissioning, repowering and repurposing projects globally and will serve as a global reference on how to transition fossil-fuel assets,” Eskom said.
The utility is set to receive a large portion of the $8.5-billion pledged at the United Nations COP26 climate change conference held in Glasgow late last year. European governments pledged the money for South Africa’s Just Energy Transition programme. This commitment built on an earlier Eskom proposal to launch a $9-billion sustainability-linked loan.
Early this month, the World Bank granted the utility’s $9-billion loan to repurpose the Komati power station. The loan will be used for the training centre to reskill workers at Komati and from surrounding areas to participate in the renewable energy sector.
“A training facility in partnership with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s (CPUT) South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (Saretec) will be established at Komati. The plant will also include a micro-grid assembly line and agri-voltaic plant, which could contribute to job creation for surrounding communities,” Eskom said.
CPUT’s vice-chancellor, Chris Nhlapo, said the university was pleased to be part of the repurposing of the power station.
“We are excited about being part of the repurposing of the power stations in ways that support low-carbon footprint, enterprise development and sustainable job creation.
“What is even more exciting is the fact [that] the primary objective is to upskill and reskill the Eskom staff and the surrounding communities on renewable energy skills which among others include battery energy storage, microgrid utilities and myriad soft skills,” Nhlapo said.