Kusile Power Station units to come online by end of the year, says Ramokgopa
Eskom’s Kusile Power Station is generating no power. The plant went offline last year after a chimney accident at one unit, which affected two other units. The utility has put in place a temporary measure to ensure Kusile can generate power this year — at a cost upwards of R250m.
Four units at Kusile Power Station are expected to come back online by the end of 2023, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said during a media tour of Kusile on Monday.
One of the units is undergoing planned maintenance, while the other three have been offline due to a flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) mechanism that was damaged in October 2022 at Unit 1, and affected the units’ stacks (chimneys). An FGD is a mechanism that helps to reduce sulphur dioxide (SO2) that goes into the atmosphere.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Eskom greenwash on coal-fired Kusile a smokescreen for terrifying overall emissions
After the FGD collapsed, Eskom embarked on the construction of three temporary stacks that are expected to be completed in November. Two of the three 160m-tall temporary stacks are complete and the other is in the process of completion.
Ramakgopa told reporters that units 1, 2 and 3 would come online in early October, the end of October and the end of November, respectively. He added that Unit 4, which is undergoing planned maintenance, would come online next week. Each unit produces 720MW and once all four are online they will contribute almost 2,900MW to the grid.
“It’s not a linear relationship,” said Ramakgopa when asked how additional energy supply would affect load shedding.
“Although we are giving you an additional 2,900MW, we are still doing planned maintenance. It will not be as severe as we are seeing it… I am confident that it is going to be a significant reduction in load shedding. In terms of how many stages of load shedding, the conversation will be had when the configurations have been done.”
He added, however, that with each stage of load shedding being 1,000MW of unmet demand, bringing the units back online would have the potential of taking power cuts down by three stages.
Unit 5, which hadn’t yet been added to the grid, experienced a fire in October 2022. It is expected to come online at the end of December and will gradually be synchronised on to the grid, the minister said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Electricity Minister Ramokgopa’s report card after six months on the job has been less than electrifying
The power supply from the three units comes at an environmental cost of additional SO2 in the atmosphere, which has lasting health effects on surrounding communities. SO2 contributes about 0.2% of Kusile’s emissions.
Earlier this year, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbra Creecy granted Eskom an exemption to release additional SO2. This allows Kusile to bypass national air quality regulations as the additional sulphur — because the FGD mechanism is damaged — surpasses the limits allowed by the plant’s Atmospheric Emission Licence.
“I am equally aware of the health and associated impacts of exposure to sulphur dioxide emissions, particularly on communities in close proximity to coal-fired power stations,” said Creecy in a statement that also acknowledged the socioeconomic impacts of load shedding.
“In the light of the competing factors, I have been called on to make an extraordinarily difficult decision.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Kusile Power Station allowed to release more sulphur dioxide despite health effects on communities
The permanent stacks are expected to be repaired by December 2024, if all goes according to plan, Ramokgopa said, as access into the stacks had only just been achieved and more damage could be reported. The temporary structures have cost Eskom more than R250-million, which will increase once the project has been concluded.
Ramokgopa said that public consultations had been held in the lead-up to the project and that objections to the temporary measure had been raised. He said the utility had mitigation measures in place to offset the impact of the added SO2, including additional monitoring of SO2 and communication strategies with the surrounding communities and relevant stakeholders.
The Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action and groundWork, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), appealed in July against the decision to allow Kusile to bypass air quality standards.
“The mitigation measures required of Eskom are weak and general, and there are concerns about how effective they will be. As things currently stand, public health facilities in the area are woefully under-equipped to deal with the air quality-induced crisis in the region,” said Ntombi Maphosa, a CER attorney.
Ramokgopa raised concerns about tackling the structural issues that load shedding affects, such as the GDP and fiscal metrics, adding that if load shedding wasn’t addressed, it would negatively affect the budgets of health, education and policing.
The electricity minister said, “Of course, for us to achieve energy security we still need to do a bit more than resolve the issues at Kusile. We need to make sure that we have new generating capacity. But what Kusile does is give us the necessary relief, the buffer to ensure that we continue on our path to ramp up planned maintenance and lower intensity of load shedding.” DM