Eskom faces emissions violations, warns COO

South Africa has gone 164 days of no load-shedding.

JOHANNESBURG - Eskom could be forced to shut some plants if it fails to reduce emissions, its chief operating officer warned on Wednesday, raising the spectre of further blackouts.

The potential closures, which Jan Oberholzer said could cut a tenth of the state firm's 45,000 MW production capacity, piles pressure on the government which has had to bail out the debt-ridden company to keep it afloat.

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Africa's biggest public utility supplies over 90 percent of South Africa's electricity, relying largely on ageing, heavily polluting coal-fired power stations but does not generate enough cash to meet its debt servicing costs.

Installing the technology needed to reduce carbon and sulphur emissions would cost 10 times the R26-billion Treasury has earmarked for Eskom in the financial year ending in March 2020, part of a R59-billion two-year package.

"If we were to press a button today and solve all theses (emissions) troubles, it would cost us R300-billion. But as you know we do not have money," Eskom's acting Chief Executive and chairman Jabu Mabuza told reporters.

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Eskom has therefore applied to the Department of Environmental Affairs for rolling postponements of its obligations to meet the emissions and air standards.

"If we don't fix this and reduce our emissions, there's a risk that we have to shut down some of the power stations," Oberholzer told a press briefing. "Have we done the work we said we would? No we haven't."

Oberholzer did not say when Eskom's failure to meet emissions requirements might trigger plant closures.

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Though the situation has improved since March due to stable coal supplies and a maintenance overhaul, Mabuza did not rule out further blackouts.

"Whilst we cannot guarantee there will be no load-shedding we are confident we can keep the lights on this summer," he said.

Eskom's coal stocks were at 50 days, excluding the Medupi and Kusile power stations, Mabuza said, adding that the company planned to undertake plant maintenance on 5,500 MW of capacity over the next seven months.