Our Burning Planet


Climate activists add Electricity Minister Ramokgopa to list of respondents in environmental impact case

Climate activists add Electricity Minister Ramokgopa to list of respondents in environmental impact case
More than a thousand activists and students marched to Parliament during the March for People, Planet and Future Generations on 24 September 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Civic and climate organisations have expanded their court application against several stakeholders involved in approving 1,500MW of coal-fired power. The case was filed in 2021, but has faced delays due to outstanding details on the added coal capacity.

Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has been added to the list of respondents in the #CancelCoal campaign’s legal action against the addition of 1,500MW of coal-fired energy to the Integrated Resources Plan of 2019 (IRP 2019), according to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER). 

The litigation is the country’s first youth-led climate case against respondents who include Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy, as well as President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Bringing the case are organisations including the African Climate Alliance, Vukani Environmental Justice in Action (VEM) and groundWork. They argue that new coal procurement will have devastating health and environmental impacts. 

A legal letter was written to Ramakgopa in August, where the CER – who is representing the organisations – requested that the minister join the original application against the other respondents. The letter received no response.

“Although the decisions under challenge were made by the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Electricity now appears to hold these powers. Any court order requiring a fresh determination of the Integrated Resource Plan will most likely involve the Minister of Electricity, who has been served an application to be joined in the case along with other government respondents,” said the CER in a statement on 13 September.

Organisations had filed against the other four respondents in 2021. 

There have, however, been delays in the litigation due to Mantashe’s failure to release records relating to the added coal, including details about the technologies used to limit environmental impact.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mantashe must abandon plans to develop 1,500MW of coal-powered electricity, or face court case, say activists

IRP 2019 shows that 750MW of new coal-fired energy will be generated in 2023, and another 750MW in 2027. A study by the Energy Systems Research Group, based at the University of Cape Town, found that the added coal capacity would cost R23-billion more than cleaner energy alternatives. 

VEM coordinator Promise Mabilo said in a statement that the socio-economic impacts of coal-fired power negatively impacted the quality of lives. 

“We are pleading with the government to stop procuring coal-fired power due to the negative impacts that burning coal has on our health, well-being, and our quality of life. 

“These coal projects do not benefit us but rather pollute the air, water and land while also producing electricity that is too expensive for us. There is also an outcry by women and youth from various coal-affected communities requesting that coal projects be abandoned due to the destruction they bring,” Mabilo said. 

In addition to the costs, activists and experts who are part of the campaign have expressed concern over how the added coal would affect South Africa’s climate targets – goals aligned with the Paris Agreement commitment to keeping the increase in global average temperatures below 1.5°C.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nasa warns of multiple devastating impacts beyond 2°C of global warming, which may be breached in the 2040s

To mitigate the climate and environmental impacts of more coal in the country’s energy composition, the IRP states: “Due to the design life of the existing coal fleet and the abundance of coal resources, new investments will need to be made in more efficient coal technologies [High-Efficiency, Low Emission (HELE)] technology, including supercritical and ultra-supercritical power plants with [Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage].”

A 2021 study commissioned by the CER and conducted by Dr Ranajit Sahu shows, however, that the 2019 IRP and the 2020 ministerial determination for 1,500MW of coal to be generated show very little additional information on the new coal. 

Sahu specified missing details around generation capacity, number of units per phase, locations, source of the coal and how coal combustion residuals are disposed of. 

“I want to stress that contrary to implications in the 2019 IRP and the ministerial determination, there is simply no such thing as ‘clean coal’, regardless of whether HELE technologies are used to minimise air emissions from coal (or gas derived from coal). 

“Even if HELE technologies are applied consistently and perfectly (a practical impossibility, since the technologies do not work under all modes of operation, such as during startup or malfunction), air emissions are considerable even just at the plant itself,” said Sahu in his findings.

He added that there were non-air impacts to be considered, such as wastewater and cooling water, and waste generation from the plant. 

It is unclear when the case will go forward, with missing details about how the coal will be integrated into the country’s energy mix. Activists, however, stand firm in their position that new coal is a violation of constitutional rights. 

Sibusiso Mazomba, a #CancelCoal campaigner, said: “There is overwhelming evidence to support the conclusion that the minister’s decisions were taken without due consideration of the impacts of 1,500MW of new coal-fired power on present and future generations of children, who will bear the greatest burden of these decisions.” DM

Absa OBP

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