Life After Coal sets record straight on inaccurate statements by Colenso Power
The Life After Coal Campaign (which comprises the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (“Earthlife”), and groundWork) wishes to correct numerous factual inaccuracies in statements attributed to the CEO of Colenso Power (Pty) Ltd – the developer of the proposed Colenso 1050MW independent power producer (IPP) coal-fired power station, to be based in KwaZulu-Natal.
Some of the statements – which appeared in an Engineering News article of 16 March 2018 and which are disputed by the Life After Coal campaign – are the following (with the responses of the Life After Coal Campaign below):
“The project will provide much-needed baseload power to a strained grid, which is preventing any meaningful development of industries and electrification in the communities in the province”
Life After Coal Campaign response: There is no strain to the national grid as Eskom has had excess capacity for several years. A November 2017 report by Meridian Economics, relying on modelling by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), finds that in a least-cost power plan, no new coal-fired power capacity is needed after Eskom’s Kusile power station. It states, “new coal and nuclear plants are simply no longer competitive. When new capacity is required, demand is met at lowest cost primarily from new solar PV and wind”.
“Colenso Power has consulted with the departments of Energy and Environmental Affairs to fulfil all the requirements for the construction and operation of a new, clean coal technology power station, having received environmental authorisation from the Department of Environmental Affairs in February 2016.”
Life After Coal Campaign response: Colenso does not have an environmental authorisation. Colenso’s environmental authorisation has been set aside by the Minister of Environmental Affairs, following an appeal, which was instituted by groundWork and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) in 2016. Colenso was required, in terms of the Minister’s appeal decision, to submit outstanding documents for consideration by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) (which documents must also be subject to public participation) before a decision could be made to re-issue the environmental authorisation. To date, these documents have not been made publicly available.
“The project is the first independent power producer in South Africa to insist on using best-in-class, supercritical boiler technology for efficiency, as well as emissions-reduction technologies, to provide one of the world’s cleanest emissions footprints” and “the EIA was conducted to such a rigorous standard that it is apparently being used as the benchmark by a well-known engineering and environmental firm in the UK as a template for all future power station developments there”
Life After Coal Campaign response: The claim that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) which Colenso conducted for the power station was of a “rigorous standard” is simply not true. In fact, it was fatally flawed and contained numerous gaps and errors such as: the failure to stipulate the source of the majority of the coal that the power station will require (as the proposed Colenso mine can only supply one-third of the power station’s coal); the air, water, and other impacts of transporting and keeping coal on site; errors in the calculation of the project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; and incorrect and arbitrary costs figures for renewables and coal in the cost-benefit analysis.
Colenso’s EIA reports do not specify what type of technology the power station will use, but it does state that “[t]he proposed power station will make use of conventional coal fired technology”. The EIA also calculates the plant’s anticipated GHG emissions, based on “South Africa’s Eskom electricity generation, transmission and distribution and … on a coal fired power stations.” The implication is that Colenso proposes using the same technology as implemented currently by Eskom. In any event, the EIA is ambiguous and unclear on what technology it proposes using and this is another example of the significant deficiencies in the EIA reports.
The EIA also failed to include an adequate assessment of the climate impacts of the power station, despite the March 2017 High Court judgment in the Thabametsi coal-fired power station case, confirming that a climate change impact assessment must form part of an EIA for a proposed coal-fired power station. This requirement was confirmed to the DEA and Colenso in April 2017, but no response was received. Nor has any indication been given that Colenso intends to conduct a climate change impact assessment for the power station.
In Colenso’s response to groundWork and SDCEA’s appeal, Colenso stated that there is no legal requirement to assess the impacts of climate change and they question the science behind climate change – in doing so, they quote a report from as far back as 1996 and state that “from a scientific point of view it is worth noting that there is still considerable uncertainty around the science of climate change.”
groundwork and SDCEA pointed out in their appeal that the Colenso project alone will increase South Africa’s GHG emissions by more than 1.5%, based on the 8.4 Mt CO2 eq per year it is projected to emit. This is a significant contribution.
“We have reached a point in the development of this crucial project where we are simply waiting for the green light to proceed to finalising the documents and due diligences for presentation to the Department of Energy (DoE)” and “South African commercial banks, development finance institutions, and Chinese financial institutions will fund the project, pending an announcement on the second round of the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme facilitated by the DoE”
Life After Coal Campaign response: In addition to not having an environmental authorisation, the Colenso power station project would also need, amongst other things, a water use licence, an atmospheric emission licence, and a licence to generate electricity from the National Energy Regulator (NERSA), before it could commence operating. All of these licence processes are being, and will continue to be, challenged by civil society organisations – including the Life After Coal campaign.
Even if a second bid window under the Coal Baseload IPP Procurement Programme is announced, Colenso would still need to be in a position to submit a bid (in order to bid, a bidder must have, amongst other things, an environmental authorisation) and Colenso would then still need to be selected and appointed as a preferred bidder by the Department of Energy.
On 1 September 2017, the then Minister of Energy announced that all future IPP programmes were on hold until a proper review was done, and to allow the integrated energy plan (IEP) and integrated resource plan for electricity (IRP) to be concluded, in order to give government an indication of the capacity needed. There is no guarantee that there will be further bidding rounds of the Coal Baseload IPP Procurement Programme, and a revised IRP has still not been finalised. Certainly, future rounds and any provision for new coal under a revised IRP will be met with significant civil society opposition.
Colenso has therefore certainly not reached a point where it is waiting to finalise the documents and due diligences to present to DoE. This proposed power station still has many hurdles to overcome.
To the extent that any steps have been taken by Colenso to obtain a fresh environmental authorisation, groundWork, SDCEA, and CER, as registered interested and affected parties, have not been made aware of this. A failure to notify and consult interested and affected parties in all further developments and processes in relation to the Colenso power station would be a gross violation of statutory public participation requirements, and the constitutional rights to just administrative action. Failing to notify and consult would make any approvals unlawful, and liable to be set aside by a court.
Quite apart from the inaccurate statements made by Colenso regarding the proposed power station’s progress, there is simply no need for more harmful and expensive coal-fired electricity in South Africa. The proposed power station will be vigorously opposed, as South Africa now needs to push for a rapid and just transition to renewable energy for all.
 P3, Executive Summary, Meridian Report.
 P14, Final Environmental Impact Report, October, 2015.
 Table 3.6, Air Quality Impact Report.
 P72, appeal response.
 Para 107.3, the groundWork and SDCEA appeal.