The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) has confirmed that Minister Barbara Creecy is still adjudicating an appeal of the National Air Quality Officer’s (NAQO’s) decision to postpone a requirement for the Kusile power station to meet Minimum Emission Standards (MES).
The NAQO, in concurrence with the Nkangala district municipality, confirmed on June 25 that it had granted a postponement from June 5, 2023, until March 31, 2025.
The decision opened the way for Eskom to begin operating three units that have been out of service since October last year using temporary stacks that bypass the flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) plant.
The units became inoperable 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.
On July 6, the Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, confirmed that they were appealing the decision.
The environmental groups stressed that they shared the concerns about loadshedding and its impacts on the economy and livelihoods. However, they questioned whether Eskom and the NAQO adequately evaluated the proposed solutions given the expected consequences and costs of the bypass.
“The increased emissions from Kusile are projected to result in 670 excess deaths, 3 000 asthma emergency room visits, 720 000 days of work absence and a societal cost of health impacts to the tune of up to R24-billion,” the groups said. They added that bypassing the FGD would result in 280 000 t of sulphur dioxide emissions and a 40% increase in the emission of mercury.
During the appeal, Eskom is disallowed from returning the three 720 MW apiece units, the absence of which has contributed to 2023 being South Africa’s worst-ever year for loadshedding.
The utility indicated recently that the project to build temporary stacks on units 1, 2 and 3 was ahead of schedule and that Unit 3 was now due for return on October 14, rather than the November 28 date initially communicated.
Under the revised schedule, once Unit 3, which is said to be ready for commissioning, is returned, it will be followed by Unit 1 on October 30, and Unit 2 on November 30.
Speaking following a seminar on future grid financing options, Electricity Minister Kgosietsho Ramokgopa reported that meeting the new return-to-service schedule “was a function of receiving an approval from the Minister [Creecy]”.
He said Creecy was applying her mind to the matter and that he would “not be placing any pressure on her” to make a decision.
Ramokgopa confirmed that Eskom had provided Creecy with its response to the issues raised in the appeal.
“So, it’s up to the Minister to either uphold the appeal or to reject it [and] that’s what we are waiting for,” he added.
DFFE spokesperson Peter Mbelengwa confirmed with Engineering News that an appeal had been received and indicated that it was envisaged that the decision would be finalised in 30 days.
Eskom confirmed with Engineering News that Unit 3 was ready to return to service and that it would operate only when the necessary decisions had been made by the Minister and the Nkangala district municipality.
The utility also confirmed that the outstanding matters included a decision on the MES appeal which will be adjudicated by Minister Creecy, and a decision on the Atmospheric Emission Licence appeal which will be adjudicated by the Nkangala district municipality.
In terms of the National Environmental Management Act appeal regulations, a decision on the appeal would be issued by the Minister within 30 days of receiving all responding statements in respect of the appeal.
“Eskom submitted its responding statement on 18 August 2023 [and] we understand the last responding statement was received on 21 August 2023.
“We understand the District Municipality will issue their appeal decision in a similar timeframe in consultation with the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment,” Eskom said.