Coal stores at the Grootvlei power station, operated by Eskom in Grootvlei, Mpumalanga. Picture: BLOOMBERG
Coal stores at the Grootvlei power station, operated by Eskom in Grootvlei, Mpumalanga. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Eskom, SA’s biggest polluter, has said it will slash emissions of three major pollutants by 2035 while it asks for exemptions to incoming standards to avoid as much as R37bn  in expenditure.

The power utility projects that by 2035, as plants reach the end of their life, it will reduce its particulate matter emissions by 58%, its sulphur dioxide by 66%, and its nitrogen dioxide by 46%, according to submissions to the The National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) seeking exemptions for some of its plants.

The company wants to avoid spending more than R11bn on cutting sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution at its Grootvlei coal-fired station, and R100m to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions at its Port Rex and Acacia gas-fired stations, arguing they will close by 2030.

It also says it would need to spend between R15bn and R26bn reducing sulphur dioxide pollution at its Matimba plant.

Eskom is saddled with as much as R454bn in debt.

Emissions of particulate matter, which cause respiratory diseases, are already at a 20-year high since equipment at the  Kendal plant was damaged during a strike. While independent studies allege that Eskom’s pollution kills about 2,000 people in SA a year, the company puts the number at 320.

Environmentalists have taken the government to court over its failure to rein in emissions from the utility.

While it has already opened its proposal to not install pollution-abatement equipment at Matimba for public comment, as well as a proposal to delay compliance at its Medupi plant, Eskom said it will soon open the proposals for Grootvlei, Port Rex and Acacia.

For Grootvlei, instead of complying with the government’s planned threshold of 1,000mg of sulphur dioxide per normal cubic metre — already double an earlier plan and significantly higher than limits in India and China — it’s seeking a limit of 3,500mg per normal cubic metre. It’s also pushing for a nitrogen dioxide limit of 1,100mg per normal cubic metre, above the 750mg limit.

For Port Rex, it wants a limit of 75mg of nitrogen dioxide per normal cubic metre, above the 50mg limit, and 600mg for Acacia.

Port Rex and Acacia have a generation capacity of 171MW each, and Grootvlei can produce 1,200MW. Port Rex is in the Eastern Cape, Acacia is near Cape Town, and Grootvlei is near Balfour in Mpumalanga.

Bloomberg