February 24, 2015 / 11:24 AM / in 5 years

South Africa grants five-year reprieve to worst air polluting firms

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa has given a five-year reprieve to some top polluters, including power utility Eskom, to meet new air emissions standards, the environmental minister said on Tuesday.

A truck drives in front of the Lethobong power station outside Johannesburg in a file photo. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

The continent’s worst polluter and most advanced African economy belches millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, much of it from coal-fired power plants that still provide most of its energy.

Edna Molewa, the environmental affairs minister, told reporters that some of the country’s worst polluters now have until 2020 to improve their facilities to curb emissions.

South Africa’s government wants to reduce harmful emissions by 34 percent in five years from now, including reducing an over-reliance on Eskom’s coal-fired power stations which supply about 95 of the country’s electricity needs.

Compliance to the new minimum emissions standards for air quality laws, which cover particulate, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, comes into effect on 1 April 2015 and again in 2020 for new plants.

Eskom alone spews out around 225 million tonnes of harmful CO2 annually and is ranked among the world’s worst polluters.

Eskom, Sasol, which makes motor fuel from coal, oil refiners Total, Chevron and the world’s largest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum were among 37 companies that wrote to the government seeking a reprieve from the compliance deadlines, Molewa said.

Many companies had complied with the new rules, she said.

Thuli Mdluli, the national air quality officer said all Eskom applications for a reprieve on compliance on particulate matter levels for 2020 were declined.

Eskom had argued that retrofitting the required technology would need plant outages of up to 150 days per unit.

It said the changes would have hampered its ability to supply electricity at a time when the cash-strapped utility is implementing controlled power outages to prevent demand from exceeding supply, which could overwhelm the national grid.

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