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South Africa can keep coal-fired plants running longer, climate committee says

South Africa can keep coal-fired plants running longer, climate committee says
Eskom's Lethabo coal-fired power station near Johannesburg. (Pjoto: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

JOHANNESBURG, May 15 (Reuters) – South Africa’s top climate policy body suggested on Monday that the government could delay retirement of its ageing coal-fired power plants to address electricity shortages, adding that a power crisis has put the country on track to meet its climate goals anyway.

The ANC has recommended that Eskom delay the decommissioning of its ageing coal-fired power stations to help minimise rolling blackouts.

However, it is also committed to a plan – partly funded to the tune of $8.5-billion by the US, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union – to accelerate a shift away from coal and towards solar and wind energy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the total cost could prove 10 times higher than what Western donors are offering to finance.

“The least-cost approach is to pull the coal plants off when they reach the end of their economic life,” said Crispian Olver, executive director of the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), adding that this would be the point at which it costs more to maintain them than let them go.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom Intelligence Files

“Moving the decommissioning… by a couple of years is… not going to fundamentally affect our NDC (nationally determined contributions to emissions reductions),” he added. “We are making good progress (on) emission reductions partly because of the extent of (power cuts)… and anaemic economic growth”

South Africa is heavily reliant on coal for electricity. As a result, it coughed out 430 megatonnes of CO2 in 2021, making it the world’s 14th-biggest carbon emitter, according to the latest data from Global Carbon Atlas. That puts it ahead of Britain, Mexico and Australia, all of which are much bigger economies.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How to beat load shedding at home… and other ideas

South Africa’s national target for emissions reductions is 398-510 MtCO2e by 2025, and 350-420 MtCO2e by 2030.

Donors did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether this would be acceptable under the terms of the energy transition deal.

A government source, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak, said South African officials had met diplomats from the donor countries over the possibility of delay on 28 April.

Eskom has been implementing power cuts that last more than 10 hours a day for most households – the worst on record – crippling businesses in Africa’s most industrialised economy. Reuters/DM

By Carien du Plessis and Bhargav Acharya

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Carien du Plessis; Editing by Tim Cocks and Bernadette Baum)


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Claire Klostermann says:

    We are making good progress (on) emission reductions partly because of the extent of (power cuts)… and anaemic economic growth” This is the best comment ever… we’re reducing our carbon emissions by being completely inept at providing basic services for our country and by destroying our economy. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

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