Greenpeace Blames South African Government, Eskom for Water Crisis
28 Jun 2012 - 00:00 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands — Global environmental group Greenpeace International released a new report on June 25 that blames South Africa’s coal program for a looming water crisis in the country, and calls on the government to push Eskom, the nation’s public electricity utility, to focus on renewable energy investments.
"The truth is that in the face of looming electricity price hikes, and a $1.6 billion USD net profit recorded by Eskom this year, local communities in coal areas may lose their water rights to make way for mines to help feed Eskom's coal addiction,” said Melita Steele, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.
The report, “The Eskom factor: Power politics and the electricity sector in South Africa,” is in response to a report previously released by the utility called “The Eskom Factor Report,” which quantified Eskom’s economic, social and environmental footprint in South Africa in 2011 using the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s “Measuring Impact Framework.”
According to Greenpeace, South Africa is expected to face a 17 percent gap between water demand and supply by 2030, while Eskom has plans to construct two large coal power stations in Medupi and Kusile without much concern for water use.
"Eskom is the only 'strategic' water user under the National Water Act, which means that the Department of Water Affairs has to provide it with water, come hell or high water,” Steele said. “…Medupi and Kusile will push up Eskom's water usage considerably in the next decade. The impact of new coal-fired power stations on a future water crisis hasn't been adequately taken into account."
In a supplemental, Greenpeace-commissioned article, award-winning South African journalist Yolandi Groenewald says the Kusile plant will use 173 times more water per unit of electricity produced than wind power.
However, Eskom said in its report that both the Medupi and Kusile power plants would use dry-cooling technology, which would reduce the amount of water needed per unit of electricity by some 90 percent.
“They are dry cooled, so (they) use only about a tenth of the water that conventional wet-cooled power stations require. So this is why we say Medupi and Kusile are ‘cleaner coal’ than our older coal-fired stations,” Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe was quoted as saying.
Groenewald also claims that Eskom is highly influential and has no real accountability.
The company maintains coal is the cheapest form of electricity available to South Africans. “But residential users only amount for 16-18 percent of this country’s electricity use. What the utility really means is that new investments in coal are necessary to cater to energy-intensive industries, with massive unaccounted-for water impacts, and at the expense of the 12.3 million South Africans without access to electricity,” she writes.
Eskom has announced plans to reduce its water consumption by 260 billion liters a year by 2030 through use of new technologies, including dry cooling and alternative energy sources.
The utility used approximately 327 billion liters, or 1.35 liters of water for every kilowatt-hour of electricity, in the 2010-2011 financial year, according to its report.
This equates to 2 percent of all South African water usage. By next year, these new methods will reduce consumption to 270 billion liters, the company says.
Although Eskom may be making strides in reducing water use at the coal-fired plants, much water is still required in mining and this often results in high levels of contamination.
“South Africa's continued reliance on coal goes to the heart of whether we can keep our taps running with clean water. Greenpeace calls on Eskom to stop building new coal-fired power stations, and instead invest in the substantial rollout of large-scale and decentralized renewable energy projects to allow for a just transition away from coal: creating jobs, ensuring universal energy access, and avoiding a water crisis exacerbated by catastrophic climate change. In the face of South Africa's already severe water and electricity crises, the government's inaction is irresponsible," Steele concluded.