South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, has called for a climate change impact assessment for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power station.

According to the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), this is the first time that the Minister has required a climate impact assessment for environmental approval on a coal-fired power station.

Coal-fired plant: appeal

The request follows an appeal made to the minister in May 2015 by attorneys at the CER – representing environmental justice organisation, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA) – to set aside the approval of the proposed 1,200MW Thabametsi power station because of coal’s detrimental impact on the environment and human health, the CER said in a company statement.

The coal-fired power plant developer, Thabametsi Power Project (Pty) Ltd, has six months to conduct a climate change impact assessment and a palaeontological impact assessment before the project can start.

CER said in a statement that this plant, which is near Lephalale (Waterberg, Limpopo), is one of eleven proposed privately-owned coal-fired power plants (independent power producers (IPPs)) which have, or are expected to submit bids to sell electricity to Eskom under the Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (CBLIPPPP).

Cause of concern

Despite this significant decision, the CER has raised some concerns:

  • The minister has not prescribed the scope of the climate impact assessment or the palaeontological impact assessment.
  • The minister has required the reports of both assessments to be submitted to the DEA for review, but did not require interested and affected parties to have an opportunity to comment on the assessments.
  • The minister has not made it clear that the authorisation – which had been suspended by the appeal - remains suspended pending consideration and approval or rejection of the climate and palaeontological impact assessments by the DEA. The CER and ELA believe that the authorisation must remain suspended until that decision is made by the DEA.
  • Most importantly, by requiring these additional impact assessments, the minister has conceded that material impacts were not assessed before the approval was granted, which is contrary to the requirements of the National Environmental Management Act.

The organisations believe that the Minister’s decision to uphold the authorisation, despite these deficiencies, makes it subject to review by the High Court.

CER will write to the Minister on ELA’s behalf, requesting clarification on these issues, and ELA will then evaluate whether to challenge the appeal decision in court.