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Municipalities must be allowed to provide clean electricity: CER intervenes in electricity case

20 May 2019 at 9:00 am

The Centre for Environmental Rights has applied to be an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in a High Court case in which the City of Cape Town seeks to be allowed to procure its own renewable energy without requiring the national Energy Minister’s permission.

Municipalities, which account for 40% of South African electricity use, are key to cleaning the country’s deadly air and must be allowed to do so by procuring clean electricity – this is, in fact, their Constitutional duty.

Coal pollution kills thousands of South Africans and leaves many more debilitated with illness. Coal emissions drive the climate crisis with catastrophic impacts in South Africa. Yet the Department of Energy has failed to act with urgency to secure a clean energy transition.

The Constitutional obligations of local government are a central focus of the case.

Through this amicus intervention, the CER wants to assist the court in understanding the important role that local governments must play in protecting human health and the environment by facilitating the transition from harmful fossil fuel-based electricity capacity to renewable (solar and wind) electricity.  In addition to municipalities’ obligations to provide services like affordable and accessible electricity, they have a Constitutional duty to provide clean and healthy electricity which does not result in harmful air and water pollution or worsen climate change. CER will demonstrate that the procurement of renewable energy is not only cheaper than fossil fuel-based power, but also healthier for the people of South Africa and better for the environment.

Municipalities must be allowed to procure renewable energy for their residents, without having to obtain permission from the Minister of Energy. This is especially important given the long delays that plague national government decision-making and the fact that the Department of Energy has failed to act with the necessary urgency to ensure that people in South Africa have access to clean, affordable renewable energy.

“All evidence shows that we urgently need to decarbonise the electricity sector to have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change” says CER attorney Nicole Loser. “Municipalities seeking to procure clean and sustainable energy sources must be supported – they are fulfilling their Constitutional obligations to protect human health and the environment, and to mitigate climate change.”

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) pointed out in its 2018 Energy Summit Declaration that, without local government, the transition away from fossil fuel-based electricity cannot be achieved, since “local government not only accounts for 40% of electricity demand but also has executive authority for electricity distribution in terms of the Constitution. Municipalities can and must be part of the solutions.”

The City of Cape Town’s plans to procure renewable energy also mirror the trend in other cities, both locally and all around the world, to decarbonise electricity sources, and instead using clean energy to meet the majority of their needs.

The parties in the case have until 22 May to file any opposition to the CER intervening in the case; failing which, the CER will ask the Pretoria High Court to admit it as an amicus to enable it to highlight the Constitutional obligations of local government to provide safe, healthy, and affordable energy to the people of South Africa.

END

Download the court papers, including CER’s application to intervene as an amicus.

Media queries to Nicole Loser on nloser@cer.org.za or 021 447 1647.

Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996

Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being; and to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation; and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.

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National Environmental Crimes & Incidents Hotline (24 hours): 0800 205 005

In addition, there are a number of national and provincial hotlines that may be useful.

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