On 31 January 2023, environmental justice groups groundWork and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), lodged an appeal to the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment against the environmental authorisation that was granted in November last year to the proposed 2000 MW Phakwe gas power plant in Richards Bay.
The 2000 MW gas power plant is the latest in a series of new power plants proposed for the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone (IDZ). All of these proposed power plants are currently being challenged in the High Court or at the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (the DFFE) by civil society groups on grounds that there are more efficient, affordable and less harmful clean energy alternatives available, which could be online far sooner.
The appeal against the proposed Phakwe gas plant highlights the inadequacies of the project proponent’s impact assessments, and failure to adequately disclose a number of impact report updates. The appeal points out inadequacies, inaccuracies and gaps in the assessments of the climate and health impacts of the proposed gas plant. On this basis, the appellants are asking the Minister to set aside the environmental authorisation.
“Proposed developments like the Phakwe gas to power plant demonstrate the inadequacy of the current EIA process to sufficiently protect our social and environmental systems. Incomplete, flawed, and inaccurate specialist studies for climate change, biodiversity and air quality are accepted by authorities without raising objection,” says Yegeshni Moodley, Climate and Energy Justice Campaign Manager at groundWork.
According to Desmond D’Sa, office coordinator at SDCEA: “The impacts of fossil fuel projects like Phakwe, which lock in substantial methane and carbon dioxide emissions for decades to come, must be comprehensively assessed through the EIA process and the Department’s review of the Project. An adequate assessment would show that the DFFE ought not to have approved the Project.”
In addition to the fact that such high emission projects contribute to climate change harms, Phakwe and other gas plants also pose a threat to public health due to air pollution. In particular, government’s plans for at least six gas power plants in Richards Bay would have a dismal effect on air quality, which has already been identified as a problem in the area.
Civil society organisations have challenged this proposed gas plant since it was first introduced to interested and affected parties in 2021. In June 2022, groundWork submitted lengthy objections to the Environmental Impact Assessment that was developed for the proposed plant by Savannah Environmental.
SDCEA, a staunch objector to all gas developments in the Richards Bay IDZ, has reiterated to authorities that such concerns are pivotal given the growing climate crisis, and the State’s obligation to give effect to Section 24 of our Bill of Rights that grants us a right to an environment that is not harmful to our health and wellbeing.
The holder of the environmental authorisation, the decision-maker, interested and affected parties and organs of state have until 06 March 2023 to submit responding statements on this appeal. Thereafter, the appeal will be considered by the DFFE appeal authority.
LINK to the appeal documents.
23 May 2022: The same parties approached the Pretoria High Court to review and set aside an environmental authorisation granted for Phinda Power’s proposed 320MW gas-to-power plant, proposed for the Richard’s Bay Industrial Development Zone (IDZ).
11 May 2022: the groups also launched legal proceedings to set aside an amendment to the environmental approval for another gas to power plant, RB2, in Richards Bay.