Wednesday 9 May 2012

Eskom needs more coal to Expand Lethabo Powe Station

Proposed Life Extension of new Vaal Environmental Impact Assessment

Vaal Triangle considered as one of the economic hub of Gauteng and Free State, also continues to be the “environmental hotspot “in South Africa. This “environmental hotspot” comes as result of several heavy industries integrated with highly populated residential areas, which most people using coal for space heating and cooking during winter. Whilst these industries are considered as having a positive economic impact, they contribute to several negative impacts in the area including air and water pollution.

The purpose of Anglo American Life Extension Project
Over the years we have seen significant increase in development and expansion projects that invariably have some impact on surrounding communities and the environment in Vaal Triangle.  Starting from April 2010, Anglo American Thermal a division of Anglo Operations Coal appointed Golder Associates to conduct a public participation on the Life Extension of new Vaal Environmental Impact Assessment.

Accoriding to the bid document, Eskom needs a secure coal supply to keep the Lethabo Power Station running until 2050. Anglo American Thermal Coal can fulfil this requirement if the life of the existing New Vaal Colliery (NVC) is extended by 20 years. AOL proposes to extend its existing opencast mining operations by mining new coal reserves which are located to the south of NVC, situated approximately 5 kilometres east of Sasolburg and approximately 10 kilometres south of Vereeniging in the northern Free State Province. AOL proposes to blend coal from NVC with coal from the proposed new operations to the south of the existing mine. These operations will include both opencast and underground mining within the New Cornelia Block 1 and New Cornelia Vaalbank reserves. The life extension Project is known as the NVC Lifex Project.  As above mentioned that starting from April 2010, the AOL conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment as required by the National Environmental Management Act (Act No.107 of 1998)
Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance found out about the project after the scoping phase has been done, we never knew about this project from the beginning. We got worried about the impact of this type of a project.  As we all know maybe from reading our past posts, Vaal has been declared a pollution hotspot area( Priority) meaning the area need special attention to be able to mitigate the high levels of pollution. If our government allows this type of development, then it is failing the intention of the declaretions. We were also concern about public participation process, there was no maximum participation.  But we managed to submit our comments through Centre for Environmental Rights. Amongst other things in our submission we raised our concern about the following:
-          Public Participation Process
-          Impossible to determine the real environmental impacts particularly on the quality of water , air and
-          High value of agricultural land
-          Soil on local food production and food security in the future
-          Health issues
-          Bio –diversity
-          Particulate Matter( dust)
-          Monitoring

After submitting our commend Anglo asked to meet with Centre for Environmental Rights and VEJA. On the 2nd May 2012 the meeting took place at Anglo American. The purpose of the meeting was to understand Background, how is this project going to impact on air quality, water and LAND. We then embarked on a tour to Eco Park, water treatment plant and drive pass open cast mine and a new proposed site.  We think we achieved most of the thing we wanted. We agreed there will be further engagements once the specialised report is being finalised and VEJA will be fully involved in this process. We asked Anglo to send us the water use license and mineral rights and we got them. The additional information we asked for is the air quality data and water samples result.
What is Environmental Impact Assessment?
We have realised many people in the community still don’t know what is Environmental Impact Assessment and why it is important for them to participate. Many people even when they do participate in the Environmental Impact Assessment they only concern about employment more than anything else. Many people are unable to engage with the companies around questions of how the project is going to affect their health and Environment. I cannot really blame the uniformed communities, often environmental issues are seen as technical and only doctors and professors as the only people who understand them better. People know that the air we breathe is full of toxic and bad smells and their child are suffering from asthma or respiratory illness you don’t need to be a doctor.

Environmental Impact Assessment is process where all affected communities need to be consulted and the concerns , issues, queries and suggestions that community may have regarding the proposed development need to considered and addressed. In South Africa we have several Environmental Laws. To put these laws into effects, the main legislation in South Africa is the Constitution (1996). Included in the constitution is the Bill of Rights. Section 24, chapter 2 entrenched that everyone has a right to 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 while promoting justifiable economic and social development
Another Important Law we have in South Africa is National Environmental Management Act (107), 1996(NEMA). One of the main purpose of NEMA is  to provide for co-operative environmental governance by establishing principles for decision making on matters affecting the environment and there are other purposes  This act gone through many amendments. In April 2006 the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism passed environmental impact assessment regulations in terms of chapter 5 of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA).
The objective of the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations is to establish the procedures that must be followed in the consideration, investigation, assessment and reporting for any proposed development.  The purpose of this procedures is to provide the competent authority with adequate information to make decisions which ensures that activities which may impact negatively on the environment to an unacceptable degree are not authorised, and that activities which are authorised are undertaken in such a manner that the environmental impact are managed to acceptable levels.

The procedures are also intended to ensure that:
-        The minimum information is necessary for decision- making is provided;
-          Adequate information is provided to interested and affected parties( I&P’S) enable them to participate effectively
-          Issues, impact and alternatives are considered and assessed in a structured and objective manner ; and
-          The requirement for the management over the life cycle of activities.
Eskom Power Plant with the capacity of 3600 MW ( Lethabo)
To cut a long story short, the immediate aim of EIA is to provide information for decision making process by identifying potentially significant environmental effects and risks of development proposal. Long term aim of EIA is to promote environmentally sound and sustainable solutions.

We heard that the Minister from Mineral and Energy Susan Shabangu talking about cleaner coal. Alternative energy model is necessary, the question is when South Africa is going to start investing on new cleaner technology. For the next 20 years Eskom will be using Anglo's dirty coal. Right now South African government is busy giving permissions to coal mines to expand, Eskom is building two massive coal fired stations. I find this statement from the Minister contradicting with what is happening right now and in the future. On the other hand we also talking about global warming. South Africa is one of the countries that pledged to limit emissions of greenhouse in Durban. How are they going to keep their promoses when Eskom, ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton and Sasol deciding on future of economic path.

Anglo is saying if they do not proceed with operation, mining of these coal reserves will not necessary be avoided, as another application in terms of MPRDA can be made by another company. Unless the government declares the area"off limits" .


  1. It is clear to me that none of the big stakeholders care about the environment. Eskom, from what I could determine, is the single company with the biggest carbon footprint in the country. The latest fires at the New Vaal Colliery as a direct result of open cast mining activities clearly illustrates this as the entire surrounding area is covered in a blanket of dense smog as a result of the fires. But Eskom must have its coal.

    And then there is the ridiculous legislation that all trees within something like a 10m radius of overhead powerlines must be cut down, effectively removing a significant ecological resource from the community without any obligation on either Eskom or local governments or even national government to do anything to counter the impact of the trees. The trees are simply cut down by informal contractors, as in Clarendon Avenue in Peacehaven, leaving the stumps to sprout in the new season as the trees lie rotting around them. The affected neighbourhoods are rendered unsightly and nothing is done to compensate the community by replacing vegetation or any other initiative. Surely it would make sense to penalise Eskom, or at least compel them to launch extensive tree planting initiatives elsewhere?

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