PCC report reveals shortcomings on Komati coal power station decommissioning and repurposing project

  • The Komati Power Station was commissioned in 1961, consisting of nine coal-fired generators, with a total installed capacity of 1 GW by 1966 – more than twice the capacity of any existing power station in the country at that time.

After more than 50 years, in 2017, Eskom began looking into possible decommissioning of South Africa’s five oldest plants, including Komati. Between 2018 and 2022, all nine Komati generators were sequentially removed from operation. The number of jobs supported by the plant also declined over this period.

In November 2022, the World Bank Group approved a US$497 million project to: support the decommissioning of the Komati coal-fired power plant; repurpose the project area with renewable energy (wind and solar), batteries, and synchronous condensers; and provide support and create new opportunities for workers and communities.

The Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) began interacting with the Komati community and workers in January 2022 as part of the development of the national Just Transition Framework. At these consultations, concerns relating to the closure and repurposing of the Komati Power Station were brought to the attention of the PCC—particularly around the “justness” of the process.

The President of the Republic of South Africa and Chair of the PCC subsequently requested that the PCC investigate the process followed at Komati, focusing on justice outcomes. While the Komati coal power station was closed primarily due to economic reasons associated with its age, not the country’s decarbonisation agenda, it nonetheless offers useful lessons for future just energy transition (JET) projects in South Africa.

The PCC’s key findings and recommendations are summarised as follows:

  1. The Komati project was implemented initially with a narrow scope, focused largely within the boundary of the power station, though work is now underway to expand the project boundary. If the vision for the just transition is to be realised in South Africa, projects must be designed with a broader scope to enable the deep, just, and transformational shifts necessary for a just transition. The Komati project should be expanded to provide new opportunities and create additional jobs in the local area, region, and value chain, in partnership between Eskom and the local and provincial governments. This is about giving life to the principles of procedural, restorative, and distributive justice. Work between Eskom, the PCC, and the provincial and local governments has been initiated towards securing these outcomes.
  2. The engagements around the decommissioning process at Komati fell short of the inclusive and participatory engagements required to embody procedural justice. For future decommissioning projects, the PCC intends to work with Eskom, local government, and other relevant actors on a public engagement strategy, to help build consensus and support on difficult transitional issues.
  3. Community members and workers affected by the Komati transition want a say in their future and to be integral to the decision-making process. Communities have their ideas for what would work best in the local context and their ideas should be listened to and leveraged. At a minimum, community needs, including improvements in access to basic services, should be included in the district’s Integrated Development Plan, and subsequently budgeted for and funded. An asset-based community development (ABCD) approach can help support the socio-economic outcomes of areas in transition, helping garner support and agency.
  4. It is essential to get the timing and sequencing right on decommissioning and repurposing projects; the process at Komati started too late. Communities and workers should be informed of the closure years ahead of time – as they are mapped out in the Integrated Resource Plan – and then Eskom and local and provincial governments must develop economic diversification plans for the surrounding district and region, with the involvement of workers and community members.
  5. An inter-governmental and multi-stakeholder approach is required to design and oversee effective transitional projects. Eskom cannot diversify the economy alone; the government and other stakeholders must play significant roles. An integrated development strategy is needed for the coal belt, which incorporates economic, social, environmental, infrastructural, financial, and spatial aspects and maps out the responsibilities of different actors. A new development agency for the coal belt could be set up to implement such a strategy.
  6. Significant financial resources are required for decommissioning, repowering, and repurposing projects, from different sources. Private sector investments, commercial finance, and development finance should be directed towards repowering and repurposing activities, as they are typically bankable projects with revenue streams; Eskom should bear the costs associated with decommissioning; public resources and grants should be directed toward justice activities/outcomes. An outcomes-based procurement/impact investment approach can also help stimulate innovation, creativity, and scalability – and promote local inclusion and participation.

Despite the shortcomings in the closure of the Komati plant, there is enough agency and will in and around Komati to see real progress in the future, at an imaginable scale. With the recommendations described in this report, it is possible and feasible for Komati to emerge as a post-transition town of national significance, paving the way for future just transition projects. The PCC is committed to supporting the achievement of that outcome.

Link to the full report: PCC-Komati-Power-Station-Recommendations-Report

Source: PCC

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