SA’s first climate change lawsuit coming soon

Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), 20 February, 2017.

SA’s first climate change litigation starts in the Pretoria High Court on Thursday, 2 March 2017 when Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), will challenge the decision of the Minister of Environmental Affairs to uphold the environmental authorisation for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power plant.

As far as we are aware, this will be the first time that the South African judiciary will be required to consider the importance of and need for an assessment of the climate change impacts of a coal-fired power station, as a necessary consideration in deciding whether or not to grant an environmental authorisation.

In this case, the Minister of Environmental Affairs, as part of her decision on ELA’s appeal of the station’s environmental authorisation, required Thabametsi Power Company (Pty) Limited (the company proposing the power station) to conduct a climate change impact assessment. However, she upheld the authorisation despite the climate change impacts not having been assessed. This caused ELA to institute proceedings in the Pretoria High Court last year to challenge the Minister’s decision. According to ELA, the Minister should have set aside the authorisation, pending an adequate assessment of the climate change impacts.

Thabametsi, the Minister, and the Department of Environmental Affairs have opposed the application. They argue that there is no specific requirement in South African law for a climate change impact assessment to be conducted and that the climate change impacts had already been adequately assessed as part of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.

Last month, the proposed Thabametsi power station made available its draft climate change impact assessment for public comment.  The assessment reports confirm that:

  • the power station will have “significant” greenhouse (GHG) emissions and climate change impacts; and
  • that there is a high risk of increasing water shortages and drought as a result of climate change that will impact on the operation of the plant and  water availability for surrounding communities, and this risk cannot be mitigated as Thabametsi has no control over water supply issues.

This report clearly shows that – despite South Africa’s commitments under the Paris Agreements and the fact that government acknowledges South Africa’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change – Thabametsi’s environmental impact report failed woefully to assess the climate change impacts. These are significant impacts which cannot simply be ignored in an EIA – particularly not for a coal-fired power station.

ELA filed a supplementary affidavit shortly after the climate change assessment report was released to bring this to the attention of the court. Thabametsi and the Department have, however, objected to this new information being submitted, arguing that it is not relevant to the matter.  It is now in the hands of the judge to decide (1) whether the climate change impact assessment can be considered and (2) whether the authorisation should have been set aside in light of the fact that the climate change impacts of the power station had not been assessed adequately.

Coal-fired power stations are water-intensive, and major contributors not only to climate change, but also to air pollution. By 2014, air pollution emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power plants were already causing an estimated 2,200 premature deaths per year, due to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5). This includes approximately 200 deaths of young children. At the time, the economic cost to the society was estimated at 30 billion rand per year, including premature deaths from PM2.5 exposure and costs from the neurotoxic effects of mercury on children.

Climate change in itself will have significant impacts for human health, arising from – among other things – water scarcity and temperature increases. Furthermore, coal mining causes land and water pollution and renders land unusable for agriculture, thereby threatening SA’s food and water security.

Together with groundWork, ELA and the CER form part of the Life After Coal/Impilo Ngaphandle Kwamalahle campaign, which aims to: discourage investment in new coal-fired power stations and mines, accelerate the retirement of SA’s coal infrastructure; and enable a just transition to renewable energy.

Comments on the climate change impact assessment are due 27 February 2017.  The assessment documents can be accessed here.

The court papers for the court case (to be heard 2 and 3 March) can be accessed here, at the bottom of the page under “Earthlife Africa Johannesburg v Minister of Environmental Affairs, Department of Environmental Affairs and Thabametsi Power Project (Pty) Ltd”.

Here is the link to the article

Mike musings: short term plans and long term consequences

Engineering News, 15 February, 2017.

by Mike Rycoft, features editor, EE Publishers

The great event of the 2016, namely the publication of the IRP 2016, has finally happened, and the plan has received both praise and criticism from many quarters. The media briefing went into some detail of how the plan was constructed and all the factors taken into account. Without discussing the plan itself, I would like to consider the complexity of compiling such a plan, which runs up until 2050, some 33 years in the future. One could ask why it is necessary to look so far into the future, as uncertainty increases with time. In fact one commentator made the statement that the only certainty in long term planning is the laws of science. The construction of such a plan must be a daunting task, as both over- and under-provision are equally critical.

Long term planning for demand and capacity has come under question in the last year, and the current popular opinion is that as we cannot predict demand in the long term and should change our plans to follow short term trends. Thinking seems to favour short term plans that could follow demand more closely, and which would be based on smaller distributed generation plant close to load centres rather than large centralised units. This is probably influenced by the experience of Medupi and other large systems…

Here is the full article

South Africa: Integrated Resource Plan clear for Q3

ESI Africa, 15 February, 2017.

On Tuesday, an official from the department of energy said that the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) should be confirmed in Q3 2017.

Engineering News reported that the IRP finalisation is dependent on Cabinet’s reception of the energy blueprint.

According to the DoE’s director general, Ompi Aphane: “It will not be before June this year, but it might be by July, August. But then if Cabinet says go back and consult more, then that is in the hands of Cabinet.”

Integrated Resource Plan under review

Addressing parliament’s portfolio committee on energy, Aphane said the department had received 63 presentations in nine public meetings — one in each province — since the draft plan was tabled, along with the draft Integrated Energy Plan, Engineering News reported.

The department of energy’s Jacob Mbele said: “Based on the outputs from these committees they were able to include externalities that were not there in the first drafts.”

Media reported that energy experts, including a ministerial advisory committee, have maintained the cheapest energy mix would not include building more nuclear reactors.

“Once we have taken all inputs from the public participation process into account the base case scenario will look different,” Aphane said.

Outlining the IRP

In November 2016, South African energy minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, delivered a speech outlining the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) and Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) processes, including a reflection on the key aspects of the processes.

Joemat-Pettersson explained: “Since the promulgation of the IRP 2010-30 there has been a number of developments in the energy sector, the country and the region, which necessitate that we review and update the plan.

“Some of the developments or changes includes, additional capacity that has come online, demand lower than envisaged in IRP 2010-30, draught in neighbouring countries experiencing resulting electricity shortage, reduced Eskom plant performance and changes in technology costs.”

She added: “The IRP update process is different from the IRP 2010-30 development processes in a sense that the update process is not zero based but use the from the promulgated policy adjusted IRP 2010-30 as a reference point.

(Ed. note: This is ominous! So if the IRP2010 was flawed, which it patently was – energy demand much too high, unbalanced cost assumptions – then our minister aims to continue with the flawed basis. )

“The IRP development and update process as in the case of the IEP aims to balance similar objectives which are; security of supply, cost of electricity, job creation and localisation, minimal negative environmental impact, minimal water usage, to diversity of supply sources (energy mix) and promotion of energy access.

“Against these objectives the Department set four key milestones in regard to the development of the IRP, which are (1) settling the key assumptions, (2) developing a Base-Case, (3) modeling and analysing the Scenarios and sensitivities, and finally (4) developing the final plan taking into account the various scenarios and policy positions.”

(Ed. note: Also dangerous. If the base case has 9 600 MW of nuclear forced in, and scenarios and sensitivities don’t include a completely unconstrained case – allowing unlimited nuclear and renewable energy – we might never see the true savings to be made by going the renewable energy route rather than the forced nuclear route.)

The IRP 2016 update was welcomed by industry with comments from the South African Independent Power Producer Association (SAIPPA), the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) and the South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC).

 

Here’s the link to the article

Eskom renewables impasse over

BusinessDay, 13 February, 2017.

Eskom caused alarm in the sector in July 2016 when it said it would not sign on any more IPPs to the grid because of concerns about affordability

The deadlock between Eskom and independent power producers (IPPs) appears to have broken, with several IPPs having received budget quotes from the power utility indicating what the cost will be of connecting them to the grid.

(EG-SA Ed. note: Great news!
Now Eskom must be made to compensate the IPPs who suffered losses because of the unnecessary delays to financial closure.
Also Lynne Brown representing the DPE (sole shareholder of Eskom), must be held responsible for the cost of the delays and the damage to the renewable energy industry, and Koko must go before he does further damage.)

The quotes preceded President Jacob Zuma’s undertaking in his state of the nation address that Eskom would sign the outstanding power purchase agreements for renewable energy in line with the procured rounds. Eskom caused alarm in the sector in July 2016 when it said it would not sign on any more IPPs to the grid because of concerns about affordability.

On Friday, South African Renewable Energy Council (Sarec) chairwoman Brenda Martin said she had been informed about the budget quotes sent out.

She had also learnt that Eskom had approached the IPP office in the Department of Energy to set dates for the signing of power purchase agreements with the producers.

“So it does look as if things are moving,” she said.

Martin said the budget quotes had been sent to IPPs regardless of the agreed tariff at which they would sell electricity to Eskom. This is despite Eskom’s insistence it would sign them up only to a price of 62c/kWh.

A total of 21 of the 37 IPPs with outstanding power purchase agreements received budget quotes. This included the 10 small bid winners announced two weeks ago. Martin said Sarec’s remaining concern was that all the bidders get their budget quotes confirmed.

On Friday, Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe said 2,383MW of renewable power purchase agreements — about 37 — remained to be signed. To date, Eskom had signed 64 agreements for 4,000MW and two for open-cycle turbines for more than 1,000MW.

Phasiwe said the unsigned agreements had been approved by the investment and finance committee of the Eskom board and by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown. The National Energy Regulator of SA had provided the necessary assurances for cost recovery of the power purchase agreements.

Mitochondria Energy chairman Sisa Njikelana was optimistic about the deadlock being broken. Hulisani executive director Marubini Raphulu said Zuma’s comments indicated the impasse had been resolved.

“Eskom’s primary objective has always been to deliver reliable energy supply at the least cost to the consumer,” Phasiwe said. “Eskom’s position is that all energy sources, be they nuclear or renewables, should be pursued at a pace and scale that the country can afford.”

Here is the link to the article

Flamanville reactor blast: No nuclear risk, say officials

BBC News, 9 February, 2017.

The two reactors at Flamanville will eventually be joined by a third.

An explosion and fire have occurred at the Flamanville nuclear plant on France’s northern coast but there was no nuclear risk, officials say.

“It is a significant technical event but it is not a nuclear accident,” senior local official Olivier Marmion told AFP news agency.

Five people reported feeling unwell but none was seriously injured.

Flamanville has two nuclear reactors. A third one under construction is the model for a new reactor in the UK.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known…

… In 2015, a weakness, believed to be a construction fault, was discovered in the steel housing the reactor core at the reactor under construction in Flamanville.

The EPR water pressurised reactor being built at Flamanville, a third-generation design, is years behind schedule.

Anti-nuclear activists have protested over the project, with at least 2,700 people turning out to demonstrate in October.

Here is the full article