Earthlife Africa Johannesburg is determined to stop yet another coal-fired power station from being built in water-stressed Limpopo.
Last month, attorneys in the Centre for Environmental Rights’ Pollution & Climate Change team filed further papers on behalf of environmental justice group Earthlife Africa Johannesburg in this battle.
Under the National Environmental Management Act, the appeal suspends the operation of the approval granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs until the appeal has been decided by the Minister of Environmental Affairs. Such a decision is only expected in November 2015.
Thabametsi is an independent power producer which falls under the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Programme (CBIPP). This is part of a larger initiative of the national government to procure capacity and energy from a range of sources, including renewable energy, to be purchased by Eskom and fed in to the national grid.
Exxaro Resources – which initially applied for the authorisation for this coal-fired power station before transferring the rights to a shelf company – has been given an authorisation for a coal mine to supply the proposed power station with coal.
One of the shareholders in the shelf company is the French company Engie (previously GDF Suez) – a company group that markets itself as a global energy player with expertise in renewable energy and which seeks to combat climate change. Unfortunately, however, renewable energy and combating climate change do not seem to be on its agenda as far as its projects in South Africa are concerned.
On Friday, 15 May 2015, more than a thousand Earthlife supporters marched to the French Consulate in Johannesburg to protest investment by French energy company Engie in coal in South Africa. Young Friends of the Earth France held a similar demonstration in solidarity in Paris on the same day.
Earthlife opposes the approval granted for the proposed 1200MW Thabametsi coal-fired power station near Lephalale in the Waterberg on a number of grounds, including climate change impacts and the lack of available water in the area.
- The power station would be built in the Waterberg, an area of Limpopo that is already so water-stressed that the Department of Water and Sanitation is pumping water into it as part of the Mokolo Crocodile Water Augmentation Project to supply industry and residents with water.
- The project would fall within an area where air quality is of such concern that it has been declared a priority area under the national Air Quality Act.
- The project fails to take into account the state’s international and national obligations to mitigate and take positive steps against climate change. Not only would a new coal-fired power station contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, but it would also use precious freshwater already threatened by the impacts of climate change, making it even harder for residents and future generations living in Limpopo to withstand the impacts of climate change.
- There was a failure to consider feasible and reasonable alternatives to building another coal-fired power station, such as renewable energy – including solar.
- The DEA failed to take into account the cumulative impacts of the project and additional industrial and other activities in the area. Two Eskom coal-fired power stations, Medupi and Matimba, are situated within 15km of the project site. The site is also close to the Grootgeluk coal mine.
- The DEA failed to give effect to the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or well-being, and to apply the principles set out in the National Environmental Management Act, which govern all government decisions that significantly impact the environment.
The Minister must now decide the appeal within 90 days. This would mean that a decision on the appeal, should the Minister not need to obtain any further information, will be due in mid-October 2015.
Earthlife Africa protesters took to the streets of Johannesburg on 15 May 2015.