South Africa

Eskom granted environmental exemption to reduce two stages of load-shedding

Eskom has been granted an exemption from environmental legislation that will allow the utility to operate the Kusile power station without a damaged component that is needed to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions.

The exemption will allow Kusile to operate without a flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) mechanism for a period of 13 months, which is likely to result in a level of sulphur dioxide emissions above the stipulated level in Kusile’s emissions license.

A section of the FGD duct, which carries emissions from Kusile Unit 1 into a large chimney, collapsed in October 2022.

This has brought three of Kusile’s units down. These units have a combined capacity that can reduce two stages of load-shedding.

The minister of forestry, fisheries, and the environment, Barbara Creecy, announced that Eskom will be exempted from the lengthy process required to amend its atmospheric emission license.

“Eskom’s request pertains to a temporary solution to restore lost generation capacity at its Kusile Power Station while a damaged stack undergoes repairs which are due for completion in December 2024. 

“In the interim, Eskom plans to construct the temporary stacks by November 2023, which it anticipates will allow the resumption of generation capacity of 2100MW which will reduce the country’s exposure to load-shedding by two levels,” said the minister.

Creecy said she had to weigh the impact of increased emissions against the well-documented socio-economic impact of load-shedding.

“In the light of the competing factors, I have been called on to make an extraordinarily difficult decision.”

MyBroadBand reported last year that, unless South Africa aggressively invests in renewable energy and relaxes air quality standards, Eskom might need to implement stage 15 load-shedding.

This was according to former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, who explained that the power utility’s existing coal power stations do not meet minimum emissions standards.

Eskom’s Kusile power plant flue gas duct failed.

There are conditions attached to the decision by the department of forestry, fisheries, and the environment.

One condition requires Eskom to report to Creecy on the progress of repairs to the damaged stack. Eskom must also take measures to mitigate its employees and the surrounding community’s exposure to harm.

Root cause of the collapse

In his recent interview with eNCA’s Annika Larson, De Ruyter said the collapse of the flue duct was brought on by the installation of a boiler unit at Kusile that was not fit for purpose.

The boiler units at Kusile and Medupi were awarded to Hitachi Power Africa in dubious circumstances.

He said it would soon become apparent that there was “substantial manipulation of design criteria” to ensure Hitachi won the R38 billion boiler unit tender. 

The exhaust gas temperature from the boiler supplied by Hitachi was too high, said De Ruyter, which contributed to the collapse of the flue duct that brought three operating units at Kusile offline. 

Sunday Times reported that the collapse of the critical component occurred because Eskom managers ordered a unit of Kusile to run at full capacity even though engineers warned them not to.


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