Lights stay on: Eskom doesn't need to comply with emmission regulations

FEBRUARY 24, 2015

Eskom, and several other big parastatals, was on Tuesday granted a reprieve from complying with minimum emission standards in terms of air quality laws, Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, announced.

The power utility and several other companies had applied for temporary exemption from meeting deadlines to cut emissions in terms of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act.

“We received 37 applications from a range of facilities, namely Eskom, Sasol, Anglo American Platinum, PPC, and a number of refiners,” Molewa said.

“Of these we have processed 35 applications and are still awaiting additional documentation from two applicants.”

In terms of the new law, companies could apply for postponements for their plants to meet current air quality standards by April 1, 2015, and stricter standards for “new plants” by April 1, 2020.

Eskom applied for postponements for 16 of its power plants to meet standards in terms of three pollutants — particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and oxides of nitrogen (NOx).

“For PM all were declined for 2020, but in some of the plants — in three — we granted for 2015 only for PM,” said national air quality officer, Thuli Mdluli.

“For SO2 they were operating in compliance — all of them — for the 2015 standards so we granted for 2020 for sulphur dioxide.”

While some Eskom plants were operating in compliance with the 2020 standards for NOx emissions, other non-compliant plants were granted a reprieve between 2020 and 2025.

“Some of the stations are still in the process of putting in [place] low NOx burners so they were granted [postponements] from 2015 to 2020,” said Mdluli.

The postponements were granted to allow companies to procure technology and retrofit their plants to lower the emissions of the three pollutants.

Eskom had early on warned that if its application had been turned down, it would have had to shut down several units resulting in widespread load shedding.

“Nearly half of Eskom’s 39,000 megawatt base-load generation capacity will have to be shut down on 1 April 2015,” the power utility had told

“Widespread load-shedding will be inevitable in order to protect the national grid from total collapse.”

Eskom non-compliant

Eskom is currently not compliant with emission standards for levels of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at 16 power stations.

There is evidence to show that the pollution levels are affecting people living in the Highveld Air Quality Priority Area in Mpumalanga, which is home to 12 of Eskom’s power stations, explained Peek.

Last year, Eskom’s public health reports which were commissioned in 2006 were made public. The report showed that combined, eight of the power stations were responsible for on average 17 deaths and 661 respiratory hospital admissions a year.

Consumers to be hit hard in the pocket

“The cost of full compliance with the minimum emission standards for 2015 and 2020 is in excess of R200-billion.”

There could be a 17 percent increase on the tariff over the next 10 to 15 years, depending on the timing of retrofitting the plants with new technology to reduce emissions, it said.