JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa has rejected a request by state electricity supplier Eskom to remain exempt from pollution standards on certain coal-fired power plants, which the utility said on Tuesday would force it to close immediately 16,000 MW of capacity.
This is equivalent to about a third of the production capacity of Africa’s most industrialized country.
South Africa depends on Eskom for more than 90% of its electricity, which comes mainly from 15 aging coal-fired power plants, for which it has benefited from waivers of soot, nitrogen oxide emissions limits and sulfur dioxide.
The heavily leveraged vendor says it can’t afford the technology to meet them.
“If implemented, the decision will result in the immediate shutdown of 16,000 megawatts (MW) of installed coal-fired capacity,” Eskom said in a statement, adding that it would cost more than R300 billion (18, $ 68 billion) to join.
Pollution in the coal belt is one of the worst in the world, rivaling Beijing and Mumbai, and researchers estimate that smog kills thousands of people there each year, with one putting the cost at 2, $ 37 billion per year.
The government is fighting legal action with environmental groups over this.
Eskom said the Environment Ministry had given it permission to defer meeting emission standards on seven power plants, with five applications rejected and only four partially granted. Neither Eskom nor spokespersons for the department responded to requests for more details.
The utility is working on a plan with donors, agreed during the COP26 climate talks in November, to shut down its coal-fired power plants and replace them with renewables. He says he should seek to purify the air this way, and not by costly renovating old factories with emission filters.
South Africa‘s over-reliance on coal has made it the world’s 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the Global Carbon Atlas.
Eskom is expected to shut down half of its 46,000 MW of nominal capacity by 2035, replacing some with gas and renewables, and allowing independent producers to fill the gap.
($ 1 = Rand 16.0603)
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Tim Cocks and Barbara Lewis)