New coal power plants will cost SA billions

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Cape Town – Newly built coal power plants will add billions to South Africa’s power bill over the course of their lifetime, a study by the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Energy Research Centre (ERC) has found.

The research also found revealed that the newly built coal power plants would force cheaper and cleaner renewable-energy alternatives out of the system for years to come.

“We know for a fact, no matter how you roll the dice for this, it is going to cost us more. It’s going to have extra, unnecessary emissions, and we need to take that into account,” said Gregory Ireland, co-author of the report titled “an assessment of new coal plants in South Africa’s electricity future”.

According to UCT, the authors of the report focused on two planned coal plants, Thabametsi in Limpopo and Khanyisa in Mpumalanga, and determined that the plants will cost the country an additional R19.68 billion in present value terms over their lifetimes, compared to an optimal and least-cost energy system that combines wind, solar and gas.

“We know how much these two coal plants are going to cost, because they had to bid into a process,” said Jesse Burton, also one of the report’s co-authors.

“So, you can see that even current renewables are already 40% cheaper than these two new coal plants. But given the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) of 2010, the Minister of Environmental Affairs is still pushing ahead with these two plants.”

A media statement by UCT pointed out that since the IRP was gazetted in 2011, renewable energy prices have decreased by up to 90%.

The ERC report was based on modelling that seeks to map out a least-cost energy system.

“What these models do is build you an energy system that is the lowest-cost one, subject to various constraints. All of them say we don’t need new coal, we don’t need new nuclear. That is one of our key findings, again, that supports the other independent analysis that exists,” Burton said.

After a court case questioned the environmental impact of the Thabametsi power plant, a judge ordered a climate change impact assessment for the station.

The assessment revealed the presence of other, more potent greenhouse gases in the mix, including nitrous oxide (N2O), which was roughly 300 times more powerful per unit of volume than CO2.

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