Eskom to ask for new emissions deadline

Acacia Power station in Edgemead.

Edgmead’s ageing Acacia power station is to be decommissioned in 2026, and it doesn’t make sense for Eskom to spend millions of rand overhauling it to reach new clean-air targets, a meeting heard last week week.

Naledzi Environmental Consultants organised the meeting at the Edgemead Community Hall to inform residents about Eskom’s plan to ask the Department of Environmental Affairs to push back a 2020 deadline for its plants to comply with new air-pollution regulations. Fourteen Eskom power plants around the country don’t meet the new minimum emissions standards, and the diesel-powered Acacia power station is one of them.

According to Sean O’Beirne, from Naledzi, Eskom wants until 2025 to meet the emissions standards.

The Acacia plant is a backup for Koeberg and is only used when the nuclear plant goes down.

Mr O’Beirne said Eskom was short of money and so wanted to prioritise overhauling those of its plants that were the biggest polluters.

“With regards to the Acacia plant, the plant is 42 years old and it is set to be decommissioned in 2026 and it would not make any financial sense to pump money into that specific one and complete the refurbishment of it in 2025, only to have it closed down a year later,” he said.

Also at the meeting was Richard Hasley, from the environmental group, Project 90 by 2030. He said that if one took the view that human and environmental health were more important than Eskom’s money problems, than the power utility should make all its power plants complaint with emissions standards without delay.

“That is the point of the regulations, and it defeats their purpose if one of the chief emitters in the country is allowed repeated postponements.

“As a state-owned entity, national government must insist on, and enforce this compliance, with financial support if required,” he said.

The country should move as fast as possible from polluting fossil fuels to clean renewable energy.

Edgemead Ratepayers’ Association member Emile Coetzee said Acacia had been used frequently during load shedding.

“Depending on prevailing wind conditions, we would experience an intense, and often suffocating, smell of fumes in our home.

“This was most noticeable during the start-up and shutdown times.

“The community did engage with Eskom during this time and they came to the party by installing a new air-quality monitoring station in our neighbourhood.

“Of course, as luck would have it shortly after the monitoring station went live, load shedding ended, so we never quite got a measurement of that exact slice of time during start-up and shutdown,” he said.

Over the years, neighbours in the surrounding area had also reported similar experiences, Mr Coetzee added.

The Acacia power station is diesel-fuelled, and Mr Coetzee conceded that the communities near coal-fired stations were probably much worse off than Edgemead residents were currently.

According to Mr O’Beirne’s presentation, Acacia does comply with the current minimum emissions standards but wouldn’t comply with the standards set for 2020. Keith Enziln, one of only four Edgemead residents at the meeting, said he suffered from asthma and found it hard to breathe when the plant was running.

“We are in a tight spot here in Edgemead because we have this power plant on the one side and the other side is the Chevron refinery. I would suggest that we keep the Acacia plant shut off unless something drastic happens at Koeberg,” he said.

Mr O’Beirne said that the meeting was the beginning of a long process to educate the public about Eskom’s plan and a public-participation process would follow.

Last Monday, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe released the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a 20-year energy blueprint to meet SA’s future power needs.

According to the new IRP, there is no proposal for more nuclear in the energy mix — but close to half of it will continue to rely on coal.

Eskom’s media desk sent a statement to Tabletalk saying, “As the Minister of Energy has given 60 days for public comments, Eskom will definitely exercise its right to provide comments on the draft IRP. Once Eskom’s position has been finalised, Eskom’s comments will be shared with the Department of Public Enterprises and thereafter submitted to the Department of Energy. Eskom is busy with its Strategy Review which will highlight Eskom’s strategy going forward.”

Eskom did not say whether it would be opposing the IRP draft or not.