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Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has upheld the decision of the National Air Quality Officer (NAQO) to permit the temporary operation of the Kusile coal power station using temporary stacks that bypass the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) pollution-control plant.
The NAQO, in concurrence with the Nkangala district municipality, confirmed on June 25 that it had granted a postponement for the Kusile power station to meet Minimum Emission Standards (MES) from June 5, 2023, until March 31, 2025.
The decision, which carried several conditions, was made to enable Kusile to resume production, using temporary stacks, some 12 months earlier than would have been the case had the power station’s three units been restored permanently.
The units were damaged on October 23 after the Unit 1 flue duct collapsed owing to a build-up of slurry. The collapse also compromised the Unit 2 and Unit 3 flue ducts, which share a chimney with the Unit 1 flue.
However, the NAQO decision was appealed in July by the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, as well as Fairacres Products, GHB Farms and Topigs Norsvin.
In the appeal, the groups acknowledged their concern about ongoing loadshedding, but also calculated at R24-billion the health impact costs of allowing for the FGD to be bypassed.
Eskom required both an adjudication of the MES appeal by Creecy, along with a decision on the Atmospheric Emission Licence appeal by the Nkangala district municipality before it could begin producing using the temporary stacks.
Appeals of this nature take 30 days to adjudicate and it is understood that Eskom submitted its responding statement on August 18 and that the last responding statement was received on August 21.
The Minister’s decision was communicated to Eskom through the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) appeal office on the morning of September 26. The Nkangala decision on the appeal of the Atmospheric Emission license was still awaited.
Eskom told Engineering News that Creecy had included two amended decisions which required it to report progress with the repair of the permanent stack and on compliance with the conditions of the decision monthly rather than quarterly.
The reporting would include ambient air quality and health monitoring, with Creecy also adding a requirement for the inclusion of health monitoring of chickens and pigs at nearby farms.
The original decision stipulated only that Eskom should take measures to mitigate against the exposure of its employees and surrounding communities to harm and the utility’s health impact mitigation plan was approved by the DFFE on September 18.
“Eskom has made progress with the implementation of this plan on site and has placed additional ambient monitoring stations in communities which could be impacted by increased sulphur dioxide emissions,” the utility said in response to questions posed by Engineering News.
Speaking during a briefing on the implementation of the Energy Action Plan on Tuesday, generation head Bheki Nxumalo confirmed again that Unit 3 at Kusile could be commissioned immediately should Eskom secure a favourable appeals outcome.
Responding to an Engineering News question on whether it was still possible to meet the revised return-to-service schedule, of October 14 for Unit 3, October 30 for Unit 1 and November 30 for Unit 2, Nxumalo expressed confidence and reaffirmed that the project was ahead of schedule.
Nevertheless, he highlighted that the units had been idle for nearly a year and that there were likely to be “teething issues” during commissioning.
“But we should be able to meet the timelines that the Minister [Kgosientsho Ramokgopa] has shared previously.”