Court reserves judgment in Eskom challenge
Civil society organisations including the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) and groundWork filed an application last year to declare unlawful an environmental impact assessment (EIA) "based on inadequacies" for a 3 000MW gas-to-power plant.
The case started on Tuesday and adjourned a day early, the groups said in a statement.
The civil society organisations have put forward that the public participation process required for environmental authorisation was flawed. Their counsel argued that no efforts were made to publish notices about the project in isiZulu nor to use isiZulu radio stations - potentially excluding these communities from the process.
The applicants' counsel also argued that the climate impacts of gas-to-power plants were not adequately considered in the EIA, and that the decision-makers should have considered renewable energy as an alternative fuel source.
"Evidence shows that a gas power plant, such as the proposed plant, emits as many greenhouse gasses as other fossil fuels, like coal, during the entire life-cycle of a project," the two groups said in a statement previously.
They also note that decision-makers did not consider the power plant's cumulative impacts - especially on air quality - given the existing industrial activities in the area and other proposed gas projects.
"The gas-to-power plant will be linked via a pipeline from the Richards Bay Port. The impact of this was not considered in the EIA, and hence it failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the pipeline, as well as the many other gas projects proposed in Richards Bay."
DIVERSIFIED ENERGY MIX
Counsel for the respondents – the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment and Eskom also presented arguments.
In its court papers, Eskom argued that the proposed plant would actually help the power utility reduce its carbon footprint – as natural gas power plants emit half of the carbon of coal-fired power plants and use less water. Eskom put forward its consideration of climate impacts meets legislative requirements and the EIA regulations.
Eskom also defended its choice in the gas project, highlighting that it is aligned with government policy decisions for a diversified energy mix which includes renewables. The gas plant would also be key in providing backup power to supplement renewable energy projects.
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has previously said that gas-fired power can ensure system stability as the country shifts to cleaner energy solutions.
As for the cumulative impacts of the plant, Eskom's air quality report indicates that these impacts will be of "medium to low" significance.
"The proposed development is therefore considered to be appropriate and acceptable from an air quality perspective," its court papers read.
The power utility also unpacked the process it followed to ensure adequate public participation – indicating it had met the minimum requirements in the legislation. Eskom said the public participation process was "well-considered" to meet the EIA regulations and respond to stakeholders' comments.
It contended that there were no requests by interested and affected parties for communication in isiZulu.
"The contention by the applicants that there was insufficient public participation as a result of lack of notices in isiZulu; isiZulu radio advertisements; non-consultation in traditional areas is merely a pedantic approach to the public participation process undertaken," the court papers read.
Eskom emphasised that there was a "full and proper" public information sharing and participation process. – Fin24/Bloomberg