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South Africa’s State Utility Set to Keep Highly-Polluting Coal Plants Open

Eskom, the state-owned utility of South Africa, has received government approval to keep five of its old polluting coal power plants operational for five years after the country implements a limit on plants’ emissions in 2025.

Eskom’s five coal-fired power plants – Hendrina, Grootvlei, Arnot, Camden, and Kriel – exceed the limits of pollutants that would come into force next year. However, the company has appealed with environmental affairs minister Barbara Creecy to keep these plants open for longer, despite the fact that they would be flouting the emissions limit.

Creecy has decided to grant Eskom’s request for the suspension of minimum emissions standards (MES) limits at these power plants, following an appeals and consultation process, South Africa’s newspaper Business Day reported on Thursday.

“This allows these stations (Hendrina, Grootvlei, Arnot, Camden and Kriel) to continue to operate at existing MES plant limits until March 31 2030,” the daily quoted Eskom as saying. 

Creecy based her decision on a report from experts who said that closing the power plants could “plunge the country into darkness,” Bloomberg reported. The team of experts also wrote in the report that balancing the concern of even more power outages with health impacts from pollution “was difficult and extremely complex.”

South Africa has been in the grips of an energy crisis with daily rolling power cuts that have been crippling the economy as Eskom continually fails to boost generation capacity to keep pace with growing demand in recent years.

South Africa, one of the world’s largest coal producers and exporters, continues to rely on coal for a large part of its energy mix. Currently, some 85% of South Africa’s electricity is generated via coal-fired power stations.

South Africa could see an additional up to 50,000 deaths due to air pollution and billions of U.S. dollars in health costs if a proposal to delay the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants goes through, a Finland-based research center said earlier this year. 

By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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