Eskom should quit coal-fired generation over the next 20 years, Greenpeace Africa said, even as the beleaguered South African power utility presses ahead with new plants.
Such a shift would require a massive overhaul at Eskom since coal-fed power is the backbone of its fleet, with two new stations currently under construction. But the debt-strapped utility, which supplies more than 90% of South Africa’s electricity, is under fire from environmental groups who claim it’s far from ready for the global transition to cleaner fuels.
“Eskom’s reform is almost laughably overdue,” Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa’s senior political adviser, said in a statement. “The utility is technically insolvent, inefficient, unable to guarantee security of supply, wildly unprepared for an energy transition to renewable energy and is the country’s biggest emitter of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases.”
Eskom didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Johannesburg-based utility, saddled with more than $30 billion of debt, is seeking major bailouts from a government that doesn’t have the money to spare. The demands of steering the troubled company prompted Chief Executive Officer Phakamani Hadebe to quit last month, after just 16 months in the post.
Mapping out a potential path for the utility, Greenpeace called on Eskom to retire coal-fired stations more than 40 years old and sell the remainder by 2040. The company should focus on transmission and distribution, it said, urging South Africa to hold additional independent power-producer auctions for renewable projects. A 2003 proposal to set up six regional electricity distributors should also be revived, it said.
Eskom said earlier this year that it’s decided to complete units at the new Medupi and Kusile plants, despite discovering defects that will bump up costs that already top R300 billion ($20.3 billion).
To be sure, Eskom will be forced to shut some ageing coal-fired plants over the next decade, losing more than a quarter of its generating capacity. Replacing that output and adding capacity needed to meet rising demand in Africa’s most industrialised economy will take years and cost more than R1 trillion, according to the government.