Eskom says it is now legally obliged to shut down one-third of its generating capacity

Business Insider SA
Load shedding
  • Eskom says a pollution decision means it is now obligated to shut down 16,000MW worth of coal-fired electricity generators.
  • That is just about a third of its total theoretical capacity. 
  • An air-quality regulator rejected a package of Eskom requests to be exempt from legal limits on pollutants such as sulphur dioxide.
  • Eskom has referred to an appeal on the pollutions standard, but seems to be seeking a political solution.
  • For more stories go to

As the current legal situation stands, Eskom says, it must shut down power stations that contribute about a third of its total installed capacity of 48,000MW.

On Tuesday morning, Eskom responded to, and provided more detail of, a set of regulatory decisions on its air pollution limits.

Eskom is one of the worst air polluters in the world, and has long said it can not both comply with legal limits and keep the lights on.

See also | Eskom was just denied a licence to pollute. Now it is worried about keeping the lights on.

"If implemented, the decision will result in an immediate shutting down of 16,000MW of installed coal fired capacity," Eskom said in a statement.

"As such, Eskom is engaging with the [Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment], the Department of Public Enterprises, the Department of Minerals and Energy and others in respect of the way forward."

On Monday evening, Eskom's environmental consultants released decisions on its Matimba and Medupi power stations. But also affected are four other power stations, further documents now published by Eskom show: Matla, Duvha, and Lethabo. Meanwhile, Eskom's applications on four more stations (Majuba, Tutuka, Kendal, and Kriel) were only partially granted.

The only pollution waivers Eskom did get were for a set of seven power stations, all of which are due to be shut down by 2030 at the latest: Grootvlei, Arnot, Hendrina, Camden, and Komati, and the peaking stations Acacia and Port Rex. For those stations, the company's requests were fully granted.

For seven other power stations, Eskom said, all of which are due to be shut down by 2030 at the latest, it received partial waivers – but those are not enough.

A document title referred to an Eskom plan to appeal the decision not to raise its pollution limits, but the company's actual statements refer to engagement with various government departments, suggesting a more political approach.

In September, South Africa formally lodged dramatically enhanced commitments on climate change, moving forward by a decade the point at which greenhouse-gas emissions are due to start declining, and setting 2030 targets nearly a third lower than previously promised.

That commitment was linked to strong statements on the need for the more developed world to help fund those goals, as part of a "just energy transition".

See also | SA just formally lodged much more ambitious climate-change plans – at a cost of R4 trillion

But forcing it to reduce its output of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide now would actually harm climate change plans, Eskom said on Tuesday, because it would "delay the country's plans for a just energy transition toward a cleaner electricity supply".

"Eskom is committed to its mandate to supply stable electricity in an efficient and sustainable manner and enable economic growth," it said in its statement.

"We aim to do this in an environmentally responsible manner that takes into consideration the need to reduce local air pollution and is in line with the country's climate change commitments. We believe that the Just Energy Transition strategy as proposed by Eskom is a constructive way of transitioning to a cleaner environment, while deploying limited funds to create additional generation capacity, rather than investing money in retrofitting expensive technology at ageing coal-fired plants with a limited remaining life. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure this."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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