“I am equally aware of the health and associated impacts of exposure to sulphur dioxide emissions, particularly on communities in close proximity to coal-fired power stations,” said the minister in a statement that also acknowledged the socioeconomic impacts of load shedding.

“In the light of the competing factors, I have been called on to make an extraordinarily difficult decision.”

Damaged chimneys clears way for Kusile exemption

The exemption was granted on the grounds that one of Kusile’s stacks (chimneys) was damaged and will undergo repairs until December 2024. Eskom is constructing a temporary stack, expected to be completed by November, which will allow for the generation capacity of 2,100MW — reducing load shedding by two levels, Creecy said.

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Temporary measures for the stack will result in Kusile not making use of the Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) mechanism which reduces SO2 emissions, for just over a year, increasing SO2 emissions beyond Kusile’s limits stated in its Atmospheric Emission Licence.

Last year, Eskom labelled Kusile its environmentally friendly power plant as it was the only one with the FGD mechanism, which enabled the plant to emit 500 milligrams per cubic metre, ensuring the plant complied with the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act of 2004, Our Burning Planet reported.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Eskom greenwash on coal-fired Kusile a smokescreen for terrifying overall emissions

Eskom world’s most polluting power company

A report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea) found that Eskom was the world’s most polluting power company, surpassing Chinese and US power utilities.

Another more recent report by Crea showed that the power utility’s lack of compliance with atmospheric limitations threatened the health of nearby and surrounding communities, causing premature deaths, particularly among children. It added that this lack of compliance would cost the SA economy R42-billion by 2030.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Something stinks – Eskom’s uncontrolled pollution emissions cost thousands of lives and billions of rands” 

Conditions of exemption

In response to the announcement, Life After Coal released a statement which questioned whether the additional release of sulphur dioxide would be a breach of the constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing — a right enforced by the “Deadly Air” court judgment.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ​​Screws tighten on big polluters and Creecy after resounding ‘deadly air’ legal victory” 

The exemption was granted to Eskom under the following conditions:

  • It must issue a public notice in two national newspapers, with reasons for the application;
  • It must conduct a public participation process over 14 days;
  • It must account to Creecy, and the Portfolio Committee of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment in Parliament about the progress of repairs to the chimney; and
  • It must take measures to mitigate against harm to workers and surrounding communities, including independent health screenings and referrals to public health facilities where needed.

Gabriel Klaasen, a climate and environmental activist with the African Climate Alliance, said that while it was disappointing that Eskom had been granted the exemption, it was not surprising. He added that the government was not prioritising the responsibility it had to citizens and future generations.

“The State of Disaster should not be an opportunity to push forward opportunities to bring power online at the expense of people and the planet. It’s an opportunity to put justice at the forefront of decision-making and a just transition,” said Klaasen. Health-e News

This article by Onke Ngcuka first appeared on Daily Maverick and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.