Earthlife in court bid to halt coal power plant

  • Sep 02, 2016
  • Business Day

EARTHLIFE Africa Johannesburg has applied to the High Court in Pretoria to revoke the environmental authorisation granted to the Thabametsi coal-fired power station near Lephalale.

Thabametsi is a potential 1,200MW project submitted by Marubeni Middle East and Africa Power with other local and global partners in response to the Department of Energy’s call for bids for the first phase of what will ultimately be 2,500MW of independent coal-fired power.

Coal for this project would come from Exxaro’s Thabametsi mine.

Earthlife, supported by the Centre for Environmental Rights, appealed against the original granting of an environmental authorisation to Thabametsi power station, but the minister of environmental affairs overrode the appeal. The minister added a requirement for a climate-change impact assessment and a palaeontological impact assessment to be conducted before construction could begin.

Earthlife argued the minister’s decision was at fault because it meant the environmental authorisation would be granted anyway, irrespective of the outcome of the climate-change study, making it a "box-ticking" exercise.

It said Thabametsi would add to existing and proposed coal-fired power stations near Lephalale. Others include Eskom’s Medupi and Matimba. These threaten water sources and air quality in the area. SA’s national and international commitments to tackle climate change meant it needed to study the consequences of building new coal-fired power stations carefully.

Earthlife wants any climate-change assessment to take into account direct greenhouse gas emissions, indirect emissions (for example, during construction and mining) and cumulative emissions from other power stations and industry in SA.

The study must also consider Thabametsi’s effect on water and what the emissions and water problems will mean for the long-term efficiency of the power station.

GroundWork director Bobby Peek said SA had world-renowned capacity for renewable energy and there was no need to build new coal-fired power stations. "We will resist all new coal power plants and mines because authorising new coal developments is not in the best interests of South Africans."

Nombasa Tsengwa, Exxaro’s executive head for coal operations, said Exxaro was developing renewable energy projects in its portfolio. The company conducted climate-change impact assessments for its projects, took part in the annual carbon-disclosure project and has conducted a climate-risk assessment for its portfolio that will be updated for 2016-17.