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Media Release: Earthlife Africa’s appeal pushes back new coal-fired power station in water-stressed Limpopo

18 May 2015 at 2:07 pm

Earthlife Africa protesters in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015
Earthlife Africa protesters in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015
Earthlife Africa protesters in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015

Earthlife Africa protesters in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015


Environmental justice group Earthlife Africa Johannesburg has launched an appeal against the approval granted for the proposed 1200MW Thabametsi coal-fired power station near Lephalale in the Waterberg, Limpopo.

Under the National Environmental Management Act, the appeal suspends the operation of the approval granted by the Department of Environmental Affairs until the appeal has been decided by the Minister of Environmental Affairs. Such a decision is only expected in November 2015.

Thabametsi is an independent power producer which falls under the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Programme (CBIPP).  This is part of a larger initiative of the national government to procure capacity and energy from a range of sources, including renewable energy, to be purchased by Eskom and fed in to the national grid. The first CBIPP bid submission date is 8 June 2015. Projects submitted in this first bid phase must be capable of beginning commercial operation by December 2021, and each project must have a contracted capacity of not more than 600MW.

ELA JHB protesters along Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015

ELA JHB protesters along Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg on 15 May 2015

Exxaro Resources – which initially applied for the authorisation for this coal-fired power station before transferring the rights to a shelf company – has been given an authorisation for a coal mine to supply the proposed power station with coal. One of the shareholders in the shelf company is the French company Engie (previously GDF Suez) – a company group that markets itself as a global energy player with expertise in renewable energy and which seeks to combat climate change.  Unfortunately, however, renewable energy and combating climate change do not seem to be on its agenda as far as its projects in South Africa are concerned.

On Friday, 15 May 2015, more than a thousand Earthlife supporters marched to the French Consulate in Johannesburg to protest investment by French energy company Engie in coal in South Africa. Young Friends of the Earth France held a similar demonstration in solidarity in Paris on the same day.

The appeal against the environmental authorisation is based on grounds that include the following:

  1. The power station would be built in the Waterberg, an area of Limpopo that is already so water-stressed that the Department of Water and Sanitation is pumping water into it as part of the Mokolo Crocodile Water Augmentation Project to supply industry and residents with water.
  2. The project would fall within an area where air quality is of such concern that it has been declared a priority area under the National Air Quality Act. The threat assessment for the Waterberg Bojanala Priority Area published by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in April 2015, as part of the draft air quality management plan for the priority area, stated that the planned expansion of energy-based projects and coal mining in the district threatens ambient air quality, and poses threats to human and environmental health.
  3. The project fails to take into account the state’s international and national obligations to mitigate and take positive steps against climate change. Not only would a new coal-fired power station contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, but it would also use precious freshwater already threatened by the impacts of climate change, making it even harder for future generations living in Limpopo to withstand the impacts of climate change.
  4. There was a failure to consider feasible and reasonable alternatives to building another coal-fired power station, such as renewable energy – including solar.
  5. The DEA failed to take into account the cumulative impacts of the project and additional industrial and other activities in the area. Two Eskom coal-fired power stations, namely Medupi power station (soon to be fully commissioned) and Matimba power station, are situated within 15km of the project site. The site is also close to the Grootgeluk coal mine.
  6. The DEA failed to give effect to the Constitutional right to an environment not harmful to health or well-being, and to apply the principles set out in the National Environmental Management Act.

DEA and the company that holds the authorisation can submit responding statements by 10 June 2015, following which Earthlife has a further 30 days to answer any new information raised. The Minister must then decide the appeal within 90 days.  This would mean that a decision on the appeal, should the Minister not have need to obtain any further information, will be due in mid-November 2015.

Aside from the suspended environmental authorisation currently under appeal, the proposed Thabametsi power station would still require a water use licence and an atmospheric emission licence before operation could commence.

In its appeal, Earthlife is represented by attorneys from the Centre for Environmental Rights.

In 2005, a legal challenge by Earthlife of the proposed pebblebed modular nuclear reactor effectively shelved the project after the Western Cape High Court set aside the environmental approval for the controversial reactor.

Additional European Pressphoto Agency photographs of the protests on 15 May 2015 available.


Earthlife Africa Johannesburg:

  • Makoma Lekalakala, Senior Programmes Officer Tel: 011 339 3663 Cell: 082 682 9177 email: [email protected]
  • Dominique Doyle,  Energy Policy Officer Tel: 011 339 3662 Cell: 079 331 2028 email: [email protected]

Centre for Environmental Rights:

  • Robyn Hugo, Programme Head: Pollution & Climate Change Tel: 028 312 2746 Cell: 082 389 4357 email: [email protected]
  • Nicole Löser, Attorney Tel: 021 447 1647 Cell: 082 788 0873 email: [email protected]