South Africa: Environmental Minister Fails to Interrogate Devastating Impacts of Proposed Coal Plant

  • New records filed in court by the Department of Environmental Affairs show that the Minister of Environmental Affairs did not properly consider the unacceptably high climate impacts of the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station, which was first authorised in February 2015.
  • Thabametsi, if it proceeds, would be one of the most emission-intensive coal-fired power stations in the world, and would cost South Africa R12.57 billion in comparison to a least-cost electricity system.
  • The late Edna Molewa was Minister of Environmental Affairs at the time

These records were filed as part of environmental justice groups Earthlife Africa and groundWork’s court challenge instituted in March last year to set aside the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ decision to authorise the emission-intensive Thabametsi coal-fired power station in Limpopo.

The Minister authorised the plant irrespective of the evidence of the project’s very high climate change impacts, which the Minister had been ordered (in a previous successful court challenge by Earthlife Africa) in March 2017  to consider. Earthlife Africa and groundWork now have filed supplementary papers, setting out the Minister’s failures.

The long-awaited records, which DEA made available in April 2019, following extensive delays, show that, the Minister – in relying exclusively on an outdated electricity plan (the Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity 2010) to justify the power station – made her decision with no regard to facts and science which show that: new coal capacity is not needed; the electricity capacity from Thabametsi would substantially raise electricity costs; and, in recognising the urgent need to reduce South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions, South Africa simply cannot be building new coal-fired power stations.

These records also show that little regard was given by the Minister to recommendations by independent experts that certain aspects of the climate change impact assessment for Thabametsi, such as the social costs of the project’s emissions, or the water scarcity impacts on communities, be interrogated further.

The Minister, Departmental officials and Thabametsi – who are all cited as respondents in the litigation – have yet to oppose this High Court application to have the authorisation set aside. They will now have an opportunity to consider this affidavit and to then oppose and file answering papers, should they wish to contest the application.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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