27/06/2018 06:51 BST | Updated 27/06/2018 06:52 BST

Legal Changes Could Force Eskom To Comply With Air Pollution Standards Or Close Power Stations

According to reports, Eskom has been allowed to apply for 'rolling postponements' of compliance with air pollution laws for years.

Per-Anders Pettersson via Getty Images
Lephalale residents' view of the new Medupi coal power plant.

If new air quality rules become law, Eskom will be forced to comply with air pollution standards or close its power stations. Energy expert Chris Yelland wrote on his blog this week that new proposals by the department of environmental affairs would finally mean that Eskom will no longer be let off the hook via constant postponements of its need to comply with current air pollution laws.

The power utility has reportedly been skirting the law on air pollution for years, postponing its compliance with the relevant laws, and no action has been taken against it.

Under the proposed amendments to the Air Quality Act, power producers will reportedly only be allowed one postponement of compliance for a period of five years, with new standards which have to be met by April 2020.

Industrial facilities will have until March 31 2019 to apply for a once-off suspension of compliance timeframes, wrote Yelland, if they provide a clear timeframe for the decommissioning of the plant by 2030.

It reportedly means that nearly all Eskom's power stations must make the changes to their air pollution outputs by April 2025, unless Eskom is granted the once-off suspension. The plants won't be allowed to operate anymore unless this is done.

Robyn Hugo from the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) reportedly said Eskom's strategy so far has to be to apply for "rolling postponements" of compliance with pollution standards , and that under the new amendments, "that head-in-the-sand strategy must now come to an end".

In March, Eskom again applied for a postponement for its compliance with air pollution standards, this time for its Tutukula power station near Standerton, according to the CER. For 13 of its stations, Eskom has reportedly said it never intends meeting the sulphur dioxide emissions standard and will apply for "rolling postponements" until its stations are decommissioned.

According to the CER, a 2017 study showed that Eskom emissions result in over 2,200 equivalent attributable deaths a year.

Tutukula alone is reportedly responsible for 192 equivalent attributable deaths, over 1,000 cases of bronchitis in children and adults, and 204 hospital admissions.

Reports commissioned by Eskom, obtained by the CER after a Promotion of Access to Information Act request, reportedly show how severe the effects of Eskom's air pollution are on communities.

The Mail & Guardian reported in 2014 that the air pollution from Limpopo and Mpumalanga alone, home to the giant Medupi and Kusile stations, was killing about 20 people a year in 2006.