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Keeping Lights on Pollutes More At-Eskom

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Keeping Lights on Pollutes More At-Eskom

Eskom pollutes: South Africa is grappling with its most severe power crisis to date, marked by persistent electricity shortages that have led to daily scheduled rolling blackouts, locally referred to as “Eskom load shedding.”

Keeping Lights on Pollutes More At-Eskom

As a result, Eskom, the state utility responsible for power generation, has been pushing its aging coal-fired power plants to their operational limits to meet the surging demand for electricity.

Emissions Violations Detected

A Reuters analysis of company data has revealed that four out of Eskom’s 15 coal-fired power plants are in violation of government emissions regulations. These breaches involve emissions of particulate matter, primarily ash and soot, which contribute to air pollution and pose health risks.

Impact on Emissions Trends and Health

The violations have disrupted a four-decade trend of declining emissions of particulate matter in South Africa. Eskom had previously made progress in reducing these emissions by 75% through a plant upgrade program initiated in the 1980s. However, the ongoing power crisis has forced Eskom to operate its plants more intensively, delaying necessary upgrades.

Last year, Eskom’s particulate emissions reached their highest levels since the early 1990s, according to an internal presentation. The power plants have been exceeding emissions limits for the past six to 12 months, with some facilities emitting over double the permitted limit of particulate matter.

Health and Environmental Implications

The emissions violations pose significant health and environmental concerns. The emissions limits in South Africa are less stringent than those in many developed countries, making these breaches even more impactful. Poor communities residing near Eskom plants and coal mines, particularly in Mpumalanga province, one of the country’s poorest regions, are disproportionately affected. Research has indicated that thousands of deaths occur annually in these areas due to inadequate enforcement of air quality standards.

Enforcement and Accountability

While the government can take legal action against Eskom for emissions violations, including potential shutdown orders, the legal process is lengthy and can take years to resolve. The government has already initiated a criminal charge against the Kendal power plant for emissions violations between 2015 and 2017, with the first hearing expected in November.

Capacity and Compliance Challenges

The four power plants currently breaching emissions limits collectively contribute around 10,000 megawatts of power output, accounting for more than a third of Eskom’s total available capacity. Eskom acknowledges the need to prioritize addressing heavily polluting plants. Some facilities, such as Kriel and Matimba, may be brought into compliance relatively quickly, while Kendal presents a more significant challenge.

Eskom’s head of generation, Bheki Nxumalo, anticipates that within the next two years, most of the plants will align with emissions limits as Eskom carries out necessary upgrades and maintenance.

The Dilemma: Balancing Energy Needs and Environmental Concerns

South Africa faces a difficult decision, as addressing emissions violations could further strain an already constrained energy system, potentially exacerbating power shortages. This dilemma underscores the complex trade-offs between keeping the lights on and safeguarding public health and the environment.

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Load Shedding Reduced to Stage 1: In Effect Until Saturday Afternoon

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Load Shedding Reduced to Stage 1: In Effect Until Saturday Afternoon

Power utility Eskom has initiated Stage 3 load shedding starting from 4 pm and continuing until 5 am. This load shedding pattern will be followed by Stage 1 and 2 power cuts. The breakdown of certain generating units has necessitated these power cuts.

Load Shedding Reduced to Stage 1: In Effect Until Saturday Afternoon

In the last 24 hours, one generating unit each from Camden, Majuba, and Medupi power stations, along with two generating units at Arnot power station, were taken offline for necessary repairs.

Simultaneously, two generating units at Kriel power station have been restored to service.

Eskom’s teams are diligently working to expedite the return of additional generating units to active service.

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