Environmental organisation turns to court over new coal-fired power plant
1st of September 2016. On Tuesday, 23 August 2016, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), instituted legal proceedings in the Pretoria High Court to set aside the environmental authorisation for the proposed 1200MW Thabametsi coal-fired power station near Lephalale in the Limpopo province.
ELA has asked the court to review and set aside the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to authorise the proposed power station, as well as the Minister of Environmental Affairs’ March 2016 decision to uphold that authorisation on appeal.
Although the Minister upheld the authorisation on appeal, she also required Thabametsi to conduct a climate change impact assessment for the power station – a first for a proposed coal-fired power station in South Africa. That climate change impact assessment is currently underway.
Makoma Lekalakala, co-ordinator and senior programmes officer of the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Partnership of ELA says: “We hope that this litigation will send a strong message to government, and to other prospective coal IPP projects, that climate change impacts – particularly of coal-fired power plants – can no longer be ignored. There are significant impacts to the environment and to human health, which must be assessed”.
CER Attorney, Nicole Loser, says: “ELA and CER have always maintained that the power station should not have been authorised in the absence of an assessment of the climate change impacts. The main basis for our court application is that the Minister, by requiring Thabametsi to undertake a climate change impact assessment, clearly agrees that a climate change impact assessment was necessary to properly assess the environmental impacts of the project.”
Thabametsi is one of the two proposed coal-fired power stations to have submitted a bid in November last year under the Department of Energy’s coal-baseload independent power producer procurement programme (CBIPPPP), which aims to procure 2500MW from coal-fired power stations. The preferred bidders have yet to be announced. More than 10 proposed coal-fired power stations, hoping to sell their electricity to Eskom under the CBIPPPP, have submitted applications for environmental authorisations. CER, on behalf of partner organisations groundWork, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and ELA is challenging the environmental authorisations issued to three of the proposed power stations – Thabametsi included.
The court papers highlight the significance of the impacts of climate change – particularly for a water-scarce country such as South Africa, where vulnerable and poor communities are likely to be worst affected – and the need for a committed response from SA to these impacts, particularly in light of the country’s commitments made by signing the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Waterberg area, where the power station is proposed, is particularly afflicted by limited water availability. The Waterberg has also been earmarked under the Infrastructure Development Act, as a catalyst for unlocking the northern mineral belt.
Bobby Peek, director of environmental justice organisation groundWork, says: “Coal is an industry in decline and at risk. Our country has world-renowned capacity for renewable energy, such as solar and wind. There is no need for new coal-fired power in South Africa – we will resist all new coal power plants and mines because authorising new coal developments is not in the best interests of South Africans.”
The court papers have been served on all the respondents, and they have 15 days to give notice should they intend to oppose the application. Copies of the notice of motion, founding affidavit (without annexures), and Rule 16A notice can be accessed here. Please contact Nicole Loser, tel: 021 447 1647 email: firstname.lastname@example.org should you require access to the annexures to the founding affidavit.
Previous publications relating to this matter are available at:
 Schedule 3, Strategically Integrated Project (SIP) 1.