Action at Kusile Power Station in Africa

Aerial image shows Greenpeace activists hanging from a crane inside Eskom's Kusile power plant in the Delmas municipal area of the Mpumalanga province, with banners reading 'Kusile: Climate Killer'. Greenpeace is calling on the state owned utility ESKOM to abandon Kusile coal fired power plant, which is set to become world’s fourth most polluting power plant in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and to instead invest in both green energy sources and jobs. © Benedicte Kurzen / Greenpeace


Did you also see the headlines: “How the budget affects you; Budget and your pocket; Budget and you”, which I passed on my way to work yesterday morning? Every year South Africans pay close attention to the Finance Minister’s budget speech, as it reveals how much more South Africans will be paying (for what), and also what kind of investments the South African government will be making. Of course, campaigning organisations like Greenpeace are watching too.

One of the key focus areas of this year’s budget speech was on building modern infrastructure – and according to Minister Pravin Gordhan: “Investment in people is at the centre of our growth and development strategy”. The Minister also spoke about seizing the opportunities presented by the rapidly changing world that we find ourselves in. Which is why it was particularly disturbing to discover that hidden deep in one of the annexures to the Minister’s speech is a table. This table describes major infrastructure investments still in the scoping stage, and at the bottom of that list is the so-called ‘Coal 3’ project.

At an estimated R111 billion, this new coal-fired power station would be the third in the series of mega coal-fired power stations that Eskom is in the process of constructing. Beginning with Medupi, continued by Kusile, and now it seems, followed by ‘Coal 3’. But South Africa is not just ‘investing in coal’ – the country is currently building what will be two of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the world. With more than 90% of South Africa’s electricity already coming from coal, building new coal-fired power stations is doing nothing more than fuelling a chronic coal addiction.

Greenpeace Africa consistently campaigns against these new investments in coal - last year we occupied one of the cranes on the Kusile construction site. And there are a number of very good reasons for that. The list of reasons is a long one but it begins (and ends) with the well-being of South Africa’s citizens.

Last year, we published ‘The True Cost of Coal in South Africa’ report which looked at the hidden costs of Kusile. The report found that South Africans could be paying as much as R62 billion per year in hidden costs for each of the fifty years that Kusile would operate. The biggest impact of the power station being the massive amounts of water that it will use, but the report also looked at health impacts, the impacts of coal mining and Kusile’s contribution to climate change. South Africans can barely afford to pay for the electricity tariff increases which are being used to build these coal-fired power stations, nevermind deal with the hidden costs of these massive coal-fired power stations.

Which is why it is even more astonishing that Eskom and the South African government are not only pursuing the construction of Medupi and Kusile, but also the idea of a third coal-fired power station. Eskom is still struggling to find the funding for Kusile after taking out a massive World Bank loan for Medupi. And the costs for Kusile continue to climb, currently being well over R100 billion. Enough is enough – the reality is that coal kills and the true cost of coal is destruction at every step.

It does beg the question: why is this country still building coal power plants? Surely it’s time to quit coal and move towards renewable energy instead. Indeed, it is investing in renewable energy that would truly seize the opportunities of our rapidly changing world, and would be an investment in people, and in a sustainable future with electricity access for all South Africans.