Eskom’s Planned 3000MW Gas Power Plant in Richards Bay Challenged by Civil Society

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  • The first court case in South Africa challenging the environmental authorisation of a gas power plant, will be heard in the Pretoria High Court later this year.
  • Notified this this week of the court date, the landmark litigation raises specific concern about an inadequate assessment of climate change impacts, and alternatives to this project, which includes renewable energy.

In the Richards Bay Gas Plant matter, the applicant organisations, SDCEA and groundWork, argue that the total life-cycle greenhouse gas and methane emissions from the power plant should have been properly assessed, as the latest science on gas suggests that the greenhouse gas footprint of gas is worse than that of either coal or oil, particularly when considered in the 20-year timescale most relevant to our climate future.

In the wake of the latest IPCC report, “the bleakest one yet”, which finds that, “There is a narrow and closing window of opportunity to make transformational changes to move towards and not away from development futures that are more climate-resilient and sustainable”, stopping any new fossil fuel development is the best route for every government making decisions about new energy projects.

Related news: EIA for 6500MW Nseleni floating gas power plant in Richards Bay denied

Taking into account the decisions of the court in recent cases like Shell and Searcher Geodata, where the court has ruled in favour of community concerns around impacts of oil and gas exploration, it is becoming more imperative that the South African government provides authorisation only in cases where thorough climate change impact assessments are completed, and where the impacts are acceptable, as well as full, equitable and transparent public participation processes have been conducted. These reinforce the principle of “leaving no one behind”.

This is critical, especially as South Africa seeks to enact the Climate Change Bill which will legislate the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and prepare South Africa to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, as well as protect our Constitutionally enshrined right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being.

“Even if the world were to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, very unlikely as the IPCC warns, Southern African is still warming at twice the global rate, meaning we are already locked into a disastrous future, beyond all tipping points, beyond a point at which we can adapt. If South Africa wants to secure a liveable future and avert unparalleled human suffering and ecological disaster, we must slash emissions by halting fossil fuel expansion, and accelerate an energy transition that puts justice, people and planet at its centre.” – Katherine Robinson, Head of Campaigns at Natural Justice.

Richard’s Bay Gas

In April 2021, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork filed review papers challenging the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment’s authorisation of a 3000MW Combined Cycle Power Plant in Richards Bay. The authorisation was granted to state-owned public utility, Eskom.

Represented by environmental law specialists, Cullinan and Associates, and supported by Natural Justice, SDCEA and groundWork approached the High Court after Minister Barbara Creecy refused the organisations’ appeal against this decision, meaning that the authorisation now comes under judicial review.

The court arguments in this matter are based on a number of concerns raised regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the process of public participation that was undertaken. Like in the case of Searcher Geodata, the public participation process for this development was flawed, as many communities were excluded from the public participation process.

Another major concern regarding the case is the need and desirability of the gas plant. The Centre for Science and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Meridian, an independent auditing firm, have shown in a previous detailed modelling study that, under a least-cost scenario, a CCPP mid-merit gas plant, like the proposed Richards Bay plant, is not necessary for at least another 15 years, if at all, to meet South Africa’s energy demands. Until then alternatives are available to meet reliability needs during limited hours of peak electricity demand.

“The people in Richards Bay have never been consulted nor were they informed about the development of this gas power plant. This development has failed by not taking the local population along with them and not a select few if this will improve and create a better life.” – Des D’Sa, SDCEA.

“While Eskom is reported to benefit from international financing to repurpose coal fired power stations due for decommissioning, and to support its plans to decarbonise from coal to ‘green’ energy, there is nothing that Eskom is doing to ensure that the transition is just. And whether it will enable affordability and accessibility of energy for the poor and fossil fuel affected communities who bear the cost of ill-health, loss of life and environmental degradation, without access to electricity. How will Eskom effect reparations for social, environmental and climate injustices? Eskom’s obsession with exporting before meeting the needs of the country is worrisome, as is its promotion of gas as a transitionary fuel which will lock us into gas for a longer period than is necessary. Gas is by no means clean or green and growing evidence is showing that it is in fact more detrimental than coal to the climate crisis. Eskom also needs to address its violation of community’s rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as communities are not properly informed and part of the decision making process.” – Avena Jacklin, groundwork.

The matter is likely to be heard in the Pretoria High Court in the next few months.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

Source: Natural Justice 


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