A total of 4,634MW worth of generating capacity – slightly more than 10% of Eskom’s theoretical total, roughly equivalent to the output of the giant Medupi plant – is either already offline or could be shut down for environmental reasons, Eskom’s latest company overview shows.

And some of those problems will only be resolved in 2022.

In interim financial statements released this week, Eskom flags that five generating units, four at the Kendal power station and one at Lethabo, are “operating in non-compliance with average monthly emission limits” intended to shield South Africans from air pollution that kills, by some estimates, around 2,000 people a year.

“This placed 3,153MW at risk of being shut down by the authorities,” Eskom says.

On top of that, half of the Camden power station, which is capable of generating up to 1,481MW, is partially offline due to “an environmental risk resulting from ash dam capacity constraints”. During the course of the year the entire station was switched off, then it partially returned to service, but it ran into trouble with storing ash again.

A new ash dam is planned to be ready early in the 2022 financial year, Eskom said.

Dealing with the atmospheric pollution problems aren’t simple either. One unit at Kendal has been down for repairs since July 2020, and is only expected to return to service in April 2021. Another unit went dark in November, and will be “on an extended outage” before it will be compliant with emissions limits. Two more can run only at reduced loads – and will need to be taken off the grid in 2021 for repairs that will require “extended outages”.

Eskom is currently operating all its stations under emission limits that were supposed to be tightened in April 2020, as part of a steady push to reduce pollution. It has applied for further extensions, or exemptions, from such limits for some stations.

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