Eskom plans to delay closure of coal-fired power plants

Eskom Just Energy Transition managing director Vikesh Rajpaul said ESKOM…

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Eskom Just Energy Transition managing director Vikesh Rajpaul said ESKOM wanted to delay the closure of coal plants to give the country some “breathing space” while new generation capacity comes online.

“This does not extend their useful lives but rather wastes assets by continuing to operate these power stations beyond their expected retirement.”

Speaking at the Joburg Indaba Mining Conference in Johannesburg, Rajpaul said Eskom was fully aware of the impact of carbon emissions on the climate and continued to support South Africa’s ambition to achieve net zero emissions, but the timing of the transition to clean energy must be fair and equitable in line with society’s needs Be sensitive to jobs and local economies.

Asked whether Eskom’s intention to expand coal-fired power generation would affect donor funding received in 2021, Rajpaul said discussions were ongoing with donors and would be dealt with at “presidential level”.

At the 2021 COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, France, Germany, the UK, the US and the EU committed $8.5 billion to South Africa for its just energy transition plan.

Delaying the move away from coal-fired power generation could lead to South Africa not complying with conditions set by donor countries.

Rajpaul said Eskom wanted to keep operating some coal plants until 2030, but the final decision rested with the environment minister, who would have to allow special arrangements related to minimum emission standard (MES) requirements. “MES places limits on our emissions and our ability to fulfill our part of the climate deal,” Rajpaul said.

The continued operation of coal-fired power plants is also subject to certain technical requirements, such as whether the initial maintenance of the power plant is sufficient to continue to ensure safe operation.

Rajpaul said Eskom’s maintenance program had been constrained for years by a lack of funding due to “tariffs that did not reflect costs”.

“Eskom’s requests for tariffs never went as far as we requested and in many cases we were forced to go to court.”

The difference between the fees Eskom receives and the increase in electricity prices Eskom requires means the utility is unable to carry out necessary regular maintenance.

“If from a business perspective you’re not sure what rate you’re getting, you can’t schedule maintenance. It also has an impact on Eskom’s energy availability factor.”

Rajpaul said Eskom had also decided to decouple the decommissioning of its power plants from the retrofitting and repowering of older plants.

Eskom has been criticized for its handling of the decommissioning of the Komati power station. Eskom decommissioned its last unit in October last year, bringing the Mpumalanga power station to the end of its life cycle. However, the move had a profound negative impact on the surrounding community.

Rajpaul said Eskom had learned from the mistakes made by Komati. “The aim is to allow economic activity to continue at the power plants that are being shut down so that what happened in Komati is not repeated.

Rajpaul said this would require a socio-economic impact assessment and the creation of new economic opportunities at other power plants, not necessarily in terms of power generation, but alternative activities such as container microgrid manufacturing, ash handling and recycling schemes.

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