Eskom is in the hot seat again after a study revealed that the power utility is now the world’s biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide. The minds of the study, as per the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, express that this is a pollutant linked to ailments that range from asthma to heart attacks.
According to Moneyweb, in 2019 alone, Eskom produced 1.6000 kilotons of the pollutant. 2019 marks the last available comparable year for the power utility.
So, what does this mean for South Africa and the world?
It’s devastating news for two realms of livelihood, namely the environment and the South African economy.
With the COP26 climate talk on our doorstep, South Africa’s environmental diplomacy is in the spotlight. Not so long ago, South Africa made monumental strides in the climate change landscape by hosting the biggest international climate conversation in Durban as part of COP17, and our country was seen as a so-called emerging champion for environmental considerations. However, the recent Eskom news confers that we have slipped up domestically – big time.
Where other countries like China, the U.S and those part of the European Union have largely cut sulphur dioxide emissions, on the international stage, the ‘hegemon’ of Africa is not exactly coming to the party. The solution to a problem of this nature is to fit abatement equipment into power-plants, however Eskom has only done this for one out of the 15 coal-fuelled plants.
When considering that the UN decade is ever present, meaning that we have 10 years to restore the planet’s ecosystems, mass pollution is a huge set back.
Economically speaking, Eskom is already in debt for R400 billion. According to a report by Eskom (Eskom perspective: EDI Briefing) the total municipal debt overdue at the end of July in 2017 was already at R11.07 billion. As MoneyWeb notes, Myllyvirta put the cost of fitting Eskom’s plants with the equipment, known as flue-gas desulfurization units, at between 100 billion rand ($6.6 billion) and 200 billion rand. Taking into account that Eskom stated that they would need to spend 300 billion rand to comply with South Africa’s emission standards, the numbers start adding up to amounts that will naturally burden the guarantors of much of Eskom’s debt, as Bloomberg puts it.
In 2017, matters to be resolved included licensing issues by NERSA authorizing Eskom to reticulate electric within municipal areas, and municipalities having authority to supply electricity within a municipal boundary, again per the Eskom 2017 briefing.
Eskom has seemingly continued to view that these options are not feasible. So if overseeing isn’t what Eskom is willing to adhere to, and sustainable solutions are not practical time-wise, the only option becomes damage control, which is going to cost a lot financially.