The Pretoria High Court confirmed, on May 3, that the environmental authorisation for the planned 600 MW KiPower coal-fired power station had expired, meaning the proposed power station cannot be built.
KiPower was intended to be built outside Emalahleni, in Mpumalanga – a region with poor air quality as a result an existing fleet of coal-fired power stations in the vicinity, Sasol’s coal-to-liquids plant in Secunda and the Natref refinery, in Sasolburg, notes environmental groups groundWork and the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER).
The final court order was the result of the settlement of a court application brought by groundWork, represented by the CER, in 2017.
groundWork had asked the court to review and set aside the decision of the then Department of Environmental Affairs to grant environmental authorisation to Kuyasa Mining for the proposed KiPower coal-fired power station.
In 2021, the parties agreed to settle the case on the basis that the environmental authorisation had expired.
groundWork coal campaign manager Robby Mokgalaka says the decision comes at a time when the tangible impacts of climate change are seen destroying the lives and livelihoods of many in KwaZulu-Natal.
“Now more than ever, the country needs to commit to an energy plan that does not devastate local communities and the environment but rather ensures the country’s move towards a just transition.”
groundWork and the CER state that stopping the KiPower coal power station project means that significant air pollution that would have harmed the lives and health of residents of the already severely polluted eMalahleni area has been avoided, and that as much as 4.2-million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide that KiPower would have emitted will not enter the atmosphere.
In addition, the pollution from the proposed coal ash dump, which would have posed major threats of pollution to groundwater resources, has been averted, state groundWork and the CER.
Further, both parties point out that the KiPower plant would have strained water resources in the region, as it would have needed 1 788 m3 of water a day in the dry season and 1 094 m3 of water a day in the rainy season.
CER attorney Michelle Sithole points out that a recent air pollution judgment by the High Court acknowledged that the right to healthy air is one that is realisable now, not at some future time.
groundWork and the CER suggest that the shelving of the KiPower project signals the death of the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (CBIPPPP), launched under a 2012 Ministerial Determination for 2 500 MW of baseload coal.
The two preferred bidders in the first bid window for the CBIPPPP – Thabametsi and Khanyisa – were stopped by court applications brought by environmental justice group Earthlife Africa and groundWork.
Although government is still persisting with plans for further new coal procurement under the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019, groundWork and the CER say it needs to overcome a new hurdle – a legal challenge to coal proposed in the IRP 2019.