Water costs, impacts of coal-fired power grossly underestimated in electricity planning

16 July 2018 - Mining coal and burning it in power stations uses large amounts of water, and pollutes even more water. It imposes massive but uncounted costs on society and particularly on poor people who live in the coal regions. A new report from the Life After Coal campaign calls for these costs to our water resources to be accounted for in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) – South Africa’s plan for the future electricity system.

The Life After Coal campaign partners Centre for Environmental Rights, groundWork and Earthlife Africa, together with Greenpeace Africa, have indicated that they will have no option but to challenge an IRP that fails to adequately take the costs of coal into account, in court.

The report, entitled Water Impacts and Externalities of Coal Power, was compiled by the Life After Coal campaign from a wide range of existing research on the cost of the impacts of coal mining and burning on water resources.

Life After Coal spokesperson Saul Roux says: “The Draft IRP (2016) provides cost estimates for different energy technologies but does not include externalities of critical importance for electricity planning. This means that the costs of coal-fired power generation are significantly under-counted. South Africa is a dry country and cannot afford this.”

Below are some of the specific water impacts and externalities outlined in the report:

The report makes clear that it is critical that the new draft of the IRP, which Energy Minister Jeff Radebe says will be published shortly, considers the full range of water-related externalities and impacts in determining and costing South Africa’s future electricity supply mix.  If not, the Life After Coal campaign, together with Greenpeace Africa, have indicated that they will have no option but to challenge such a failure in court.

Life After Coal, together with Greenpeace Africa, has previously called for a set of basic minimum principles to be met by the IRP.[5] One of these is that the IRP must take full account of externalised costs.

Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa, says: “Excluding these costs results in the misrepresentation of the costs of coal-fired power generation. These costs do not go away. They are borne by the environment, by society in general and especially by poor communities. Conversely, including these costs would justify a rapid shift from coal to water-efficient renewable energy. This transition is essential and urgent given South Africa’s water crisis. It is equally urgent that this is planned as a just transition that contributes creating a more equal society in which everyone has a place including workers who are currently employed in the coal sector.” The Life After Coal Campaign continues to call for a least cost IRP that meets the minimum requirements and is in the best interest of all South Africans.

Download a brochure that provides a summary of the report here.

Download the full report here.

[1] Pretorius, K. (2009). Coal Mining and Combustion – Internalising the cost for a fair climate change debate. Rivonia: Federation for a Sustainable Environment

[2] WWF-SA. 2011. Coal and Water Futures in South Africa The case for protecting headwaters in the Enkangala grasslands. Cape Town: WWF-SA.

[3] World Bank. 2017. Modelling the water-energy nexus: How do water constraints affect energy planning in South Africa? Washington D.C: World Bank Group.

[4] Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). 2017. Formal comments on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) Updates Assumptions, Base Case and Observations 20170331-CSIR-EC-ESPO-REP-DOE-1.1A Rev 1.1. Pretoria: CSIR.

[5] No room for secrecy: Environmental organisations publish minimum requirements for SA's overdue Integrated Resource Plan for electricity.


For media queries, please contact Annette Gibbs on agibbs@cer.org.za or 082 467 1295.