Eskom warns it could be forced to take 16,000MW off the grid

Embattled power utility Eskom has warned that the imposition of minimum emissions standards earlier than expected will lead to an energy crisis as it would be forced to take power plants offline.

In terms of the current laws, all Eskom’s coal and liquid fuel-fired power stations must meet required Minimum Emission Standards (MES) regulations.

The MES regulations provide time frames for compliance to power plant air quality emission limits and arrangements, including:

  • A once-off postponement with the compliance of minimum emissions for “new” plant for five years from the date of issue. No once-off postponement would be valid beyond 31 March 2025;
  • A once-off suspension for plants being decommissioned by 31 March 2030;
  • The National Air Quality Officer may grant an alternate emission limit or emission load if certain conditions are met.

Eskom said that a decision by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) on these applications was handed down on 30 October 2021, and made available to the power utility on 4 November 2021.

The power utility said that it received positive postponement decisions for Grootvlei, Arnot, Hendrina, Camden, Komati, Acacia and Port Rex. These coal-fired power stations are scheduled to shut down by 2030 with Komati being the first to shut down its last unit in September 2022 and Hendrina before 2025.

However, requests for postponements at the Matla, Duvha, Matimba, Medupi and Lethabo power stations were declined completely, while postponement applications for Majuba, Tutuka, Kendal, and Kriel were partially granted.

Why it’s a problem

Eskom said it has reviewed these decisions and believes they will have a very significant impact on its ability to provide electricity.

“If implemented, the decision will result in an immediate shutting down of 16,000MW of installed coal-fired capacity. This would have a significant negative impact on the economy and employment, particularly in Mpumalanga and Lephalale, and delay the country’s plans for a just energy transition toward a cleaner electricity supply.”

Eskom said it is now engaging with the DFFE, the Department of Public Enterprises, the Department of Minerals and Energy and others in respect of the way forward.

“Eskom is committed to its mandate to supply stable electricity in an efficient and sustainable manner and enable economic growth. We aim to do this in an environmentally responsible manner that takes into consideration the need to reduce local air pollution and is in line with the country’s climate change commitments.

“We believe that the Just Energy Transition strategy as proposed by Eskom is a constructive way of transitioning to a cleaner environment while deploying limited funds to create additional generation capacity, rather than investing money in retrofitting expensive technology at ageing coal-fired plants with a limited remaining life.”

Read: Eskom applies for 20.5% electricity price hike in 2022

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Eskom warns it could be forced to take 16,000MW off the grid