Carol Paton Writer at Large

The government should drop its plan to commission new coal power from independent power producers (IPPs) or face legal action, environmental lobby group the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) told MPs on Tuesday.

Two years ago the government called for bids for 1,000MW of coal power by IPPs  and selected two consortia to build the stations. The 1,000MW of new coal was pencilled in to the government’s draft Integrated Resource Plan — its long-term energy plan — whichwas released at the beginning of September.

Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy is holding hearings on the plan before it is made final by energy minister Jeff Radebe.

The government argues that even though energy demand has decreased and the coal IPPs are no longer required, they should still go ahead with the plan. Prices for new renewable energy are now cheaper than for new coal.

The objective of the Integrated Resource Plan is to model the most cost-effective way to meet SA’s energy needs. “Policy adjustments” based on other government priorities — such as the coal IPPs — contribute to higher energy costs. It is estimated, by the government’s own calculation, that the coal IPPs will unnecessarily raise electricity tariffs by an extra 1.9c/kWh and cost SA an additional R23bn in electricity tariffs over their lifespan.

Environmental groups such as the CER have objected to the “policy adjustment” to “force” the two coal IPPs as part of the energy mix. The government argues that because these have already been commissioned, they must go ahead. But the CER says the department is within its rights to withdraw the programme at any time.

“Research shows that an urgent and inclusive transition away from coal is in the public interest, and it is the least-cost option. We need to abandon any unnecessary new coal-fired power and expedite the decommissioning of our ageing coal fleet,” says the centre.

A study also shows that the government will have to pay an extra R23bn in emissions mitigation strategies if it is to keep within its carbon emission reductions target and build the two coal power stations, the CER told MPs.

Other environmental groups that made presentations on Tuesday included Greenpeace and Project 90. Both argued that SA needs to speed up its transition to a post-coal economy by dropping the IPPs, canning the completion of units 5 and 6 at Kusile and retiring some of Eskom’s old power stations early.