πŸ”’ Eskom’s VW moment – Chris Yelland on under-reporting carbon emissions

Has Eskom just experienced it’s Volkswagen moment – being caught out for under-reporting carbon emissions? Chris Yelland, the go-to guy on Eskom and all things energy related, has reported on a non-compliance notice that The Centre for Environmental Rights brought to light. Eskom, already fraught with loadshedding issues, has yet another battle to fight. All while on the sidelines the power utility had to temporarily close its Camden power plant in Mpumalanga because the dam where it stores the ash from burning coal could burst and endanger local residents. – Vanessa Marks

Chris Yelland is our go-to guy when it comes to anything to do with energy, and you’ve written a fabulous piece today, just after you wrote some pretty glowing reports about Andre de Ruyter at Eskom, you now explaining they could be having their Volkswagen moment – Volkswagen falsified their carbon emission figures and from what you wrote today Eskom appears to at least be accused of having done the same at the Kendall power station. Tell us the story Chris.
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Well it’s not me that’s accusing them. In fact the regulatory authority which is the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries issued a so-called compliance notice in December last year after engaging with Eskom to get all the facts. They finally issued this compliance notice which the department makes some very harsh findings which one’s got to take seriously. For many years the department has been a very slack regulator in my view and has allowed Eskom to get away with a lot of things that would be ostensibly against the law and give them every benefit of the doubt and every opportunity to do the right thing. Finally this compliance notice came out. It wasn’t hidden from the public but neither was it accessible to the public, so the criticism by the regulator was not public. There’s a very highly regarded NGO, legal company called the Centre for Environmental Rights based in Cape Town, they submitted an application for this information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act and they had recently received this compliance notice and it has then come out into the public domain. The revelations are truly shocking because they point to falsification of records and really misleading the regulator, submitting information to the regulator that is untrue and misleading and that is a very serious offence in law and would if convicted, would subject Eskom to a fine of up to R10m and imprisonment of up to 10 years. I think it is now in fact you can’t imprison Eskom but I presume you could imprisoned certain officials at Eskom. They were personally responsible.

It does appear as though Eskom got away with this because we had loadshedding, now that there is no loadshedding, I wonder if that’s suddenly opened this can of worms because to see a government department trying to close down at least a couple of the generators at Eskom, because they are not complying with carbon emissions would have been impossible during the period when we were having loadshedding or would it have been Chris? Is there enough evidence here to say to heck with loadshedding, you’ve got to close down the Kendall power station?

Well they issued this compliance notice which required Eskom to shut down two generators. This is two times 600 megawatt, 1,200 megawatt on the 10th of December which was in the middle of load shedding. That was the time when we had load shedding. So what has happened since we’ve had this lockdown which is the problem. But to answer your question, no they did issue this during load shedding, and demand that Eskom shut down these generators within 30 days. Now unfortunately or fortunately for us, whichever way you look at it that is just the start of a painful and protracted process. So Eskom immediately, within a short space of time lodged an objection to this notice, asked for an extension of the 30 days to the end of January. So they had until the 10th of January to shut down these generators but they appealed and asked the minister to relent and give them some extra time to respond. So it was extended until the end of January and since then in fact the compliance notice has been put on hold by the minister, that is Barbara Creecy,Β  whilst they consider Eskom’s objections. So Eskom is objecting to this compliance notice and the minister will need to consider those objections carefully I’m sure, based on the needs of the country and the impact that this would have. But the bottom line is there’s a weighing off of the interests of public health and the safety and the lives of people and communities and workers in the Mpumalanga area to be weighed against economic impacts of shutting down two generators at a time when there may be shortages. Right now there are no shortages but that there could have been shortages and it may still be shortages in the future.

Emissions rise from the cooling towers of the Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. Matla coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga, South Africa, on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. The level of sulfur dioxide emissions in the Kriel area in Mpumalanga province only lags the Norilsk Nickel metal complex in the Russian town of Norilsk, the environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement, citing 2018 data from NASA satellites. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

It’s so interesting Chris because it’s almost like the country is moving into a different mindset. On the one hand you’ve got the the obvious economic dangers of what we going through now with Covid-19 but you can extrapolate that into Eskom which is polluting but doing so while providing us with electricity. How are you reading it?

You mustn’t think that this pollution is something new nor must you think that Eskom’s failure to comply with the environmental laws of South Africa is something new. It’s been going on for years. And for years people have been dying prematurely as a result of air pollution, the burning of coal by Eskom power stations. So it’s not something new. To contextualise, a study conducted or commissioned by Eskom itself concluded that there are more than 300 premature deaths per year as a result of the burning of coal by Eskom in the power stations. That was done by Eskom itself. Independent studies put the figure higher than 2,000 deaths per year as a result of the burning of coal. Now lets move to a nuclear power station Koeberg power station. I want to tell you very clearly that if Eskom had one tenth of 300, that is 30 deaths per annum resulted from radiation at Koeberg, the regulator would shut down Koeberg tomorrow.

But coal gets away with ten times that according to Eskom’s studies and much higher level of deaths according to independent studies. It’s par for the course. Nothing happens, and nothing is shut down. It’s been going on for years like this. So it seems to be two different standards being set and I guess really it’s simply because coal has been doing this for the last 100 years, not only in South Africa but around the world. But the world is now moving to a cleaner place and a safer place. Let’s hope that Eskom picks up the cue from the rest of the world and embarks on a just energy transition.

Chris Yelland is the managing director of EE Business Intelligence. Chris thanks for joining us.