Coal opponents prepare for yet another court battle over Thabametsi power project

6th February 2018 By: Terence Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

Coal opponents prepare for yet another court battle over Thabametsi power project

Photo by: Duane Daws

Civil society organisations opposing the development of new coal-fired power generation capacity in South Africa say they will again approach the courts to challenge the latest environmental authorisation granted for the 557 MW Thabametsi coal-fired power station project, proposed for development near Lephalale, in the Limpopo province.

In 2016, the project was selected as a preferred bidder following the first bid window of South Africa’s Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.

However, in March last year the North Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of Earthlife Africa (ELA), which challenged a decision by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to reject the organisation’s appeal against the environmental authorisation granted to the power station.

The Department of Environmental Affairs granted the environmental authorisation in the absence of comprehensive assessment of the plant’s climate change impacts.

Following what was dubbed South Africa’s first climate change case, Judge John Murphy ordered Molewa to reconsider Thabametsi’s environmental authorisation, with the inclusion of a climate change impact assessment.

In June 2017, Thabametsi made its final climate impact assessment available for consideration and comment and, on January 30, Molewa decided that the Thabametsi environmental authorisation would remain in place.

However, ELA plans to contest the latest authorisation, arguing that the Minister gave her approval primarily on the basis of its alignment with the Integrated Resource Plan of 2010 (IRP 2010), which is out of date.

ELA, which is supported by other organisations forming part of the Life After Coal campaign, argued that the approval was made despite the risks relating to greenhouse gas emissions having been described as “very high” in a peer review of Thabametsi’s climate change impact assessment.

ELA’s Makoma Lekalakala said the organisation was “shocked” by the Minister’s decision, which flew in the face of South Africa’s commitment to limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Reliance on the “extremely-outdated” IRP 2010 was described as “insufficient justification” for the approval.

Centre for Environmental Rights attorney Nicole Loser argued that the Minister’s decision was neither reasonable nor rational. “In the circumstances, our client, ELA, has no option but to return to court to challenge the Minister’s decision,” Loser said in a statement.