A recent report from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) highlights the urgent ethical dilemma facing the South African government. A pause in plans to phase out 11,300 megawatts of coal-fired generation to mitigate blackouts could lead to more than 15,000 avoidable deaths. The CREA study shows that continuing to operate the seven coal-fired power facilities operated by Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., which are scheduled to close by 2030, would result in 6,200 deaths from particulate emissions, 5,700 from carbon dioxide emissions and 3,500 from sulfur emissions. Death from particulate matter emissions. Deaths from nitrogen dioxide emissions.
While the government recognizes the harmful effects of air pollution, it needs to strike a delicate balance between the health effects of emissions and the impact of outages on economic growth and jobs in surrounding communities. These coal-fired power plants currently account for about a quarter of the country’s installed capacity.
Eskom, considered the world’s largest emitter of sulfur dioxide, has come under intense scrutiny for its environmental practices. In a previous case, the South African government was forced by the Supreme Court to enforce pollution regulations against Eskom and major petrochemical company Sasol Ltd. While Eskom recognizes the impact of its emissions on population health, it has questioned the research methodology used by CREA in previous reports.
The effects of particulate matter emissions alone are severe and can lead to health problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Clearly, decisions must be made that take into account the long-term effects of air pollution on public health as well as the immediate challenge of ensuring a reliable energy supply.
Q: What is the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA)?
A: CREA is a Helsinki-based non-profit organization focused on analyzing the public health impacts of energy production and air pollution.
Q: In what year are the seven coal-fired power facilities operated by Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. scheduled to close?
A: These facilities are scheduled to close by 2030.
Q: What health risks may arise from particulate matter emissions from coal-fired power plants?
A: Particulate matter emissions can cause diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.