Public hearings into the Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) kicked off in Parliament on Tuesday, with several organisations voicing their concerns about the plan’s provision for new coal-fired power stations.
Attorney Robyn Hugo of the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Energy that introducing new coal-fired power stations would be "unlawful, irrational and in conflict with the Constitution".
Lawyers for the organisation concede that the draft IRP released for comment on August 27 is a "substantial improvement" on both the IRP 2010 and the 2016 draft, but they are unhappy about the inclusion of 1 000 MW of new coal-fired capacity to come from the proposed independent power producer (IPP) coal-fired power stations, Thabametsi and Khanyisa.
“This is despite the draft IRP’s own acknowledgement that a least-cost IRP would not include any new coal capacity, and despite Energy Minister Jeff Radebe’s admission that forcing these two coal plants into the IRP will cost South Africa an additional R23-billion.”
The CER says the two plants would pose a major threat to the environment.
“Burning coal for electricity has a devastating impact [on the] climate, human health and the environment. Thabametsi and Khanyisa would be two of the most greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission-intensive plants in the world and would have unacceptable impacts for South Africa’s water resources, air quality and climate at a time when the International Panel on Climate Change has, last week, issued its most dire warnings yet about the severe consequences of climate change for South Africa,” the CER warns.
Hugo argued that the coal projects would also "cause significant economic and financial harm" to Eskom, the National Treasury, municipalities and electricity consumers as they were likely to cause electricity prices to rise.
“South Africa does not need additional electricity capacity. Far from being good for our economy, it will cost R20-billion. There’s simply no benefit that justifies this harmful impact. Coal is far outpaced in costs and efficiency by other renewable sources as well as gas.”
The CER says the draft IRP also places an "arbitrary and unreasonable" annual constraint on renewable energy capacity up until 2030. It argues that coal power generation requires enormous volumes of water and pollutes South Africa’s scarce water resources.
The CER also says renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, would provide more jobs than the coal industry.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace South Africa's Happy Khambule said the organisation was against coal for several reasons.
“Allowing the new coal-fired power plants to go ahead and continue with the construction of units five and six of Kusile, will be disastrous for water resources, air quality, health, land and the climate,” he charged.
“Including new coal in the IRP is irresponsible and puts future generations at risk. Not only should the IRP remove the 1 000 MW of new coal but it should also remove Kusile Units 5 and 6 which Eskom does not have the money to complete and which will become stranded assets.”
Khambule also warned of the dangers of climate change. He said Southern Africa was particularly vulnerable to climate change, as seen in the recent drought in South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia, and coal would intensify this.
“Fossil fuels are an archaic, expensive, inflexible and irresponsible option for our electricity future,” Khambule told Members of Parliament during the hearings which are scheduled for two days.