Over the past few weeks, ESKOM have been hitting the headlines for all the wrong environmental reasons. First, it was the cost of scrubbing the emissions from its major power stations, and now, its a big 'oops' over falsified emission data that has been published by the organisation.
Cleaning the filthy air associated with 'brown' power-stations is not an easy task, but it can be done and in the case of Eskom, should have been budgeted into the two new mega-stations at Medupi and Kusile before the major budget overruns. Now, it seems, the cost of retrofitting just these two power generators could exceed the overall costs altogether - not to mention the incredible amount of water that this process will require in a country that borders on drought conditions for more than three quarters of the year.
One has to ask why the designers failed to incorporate this and why - after almost fifteen years, this is still being debated by Eskom. For almost seventy five years, they have been polluting our air with acid and dangerous contaminants, oblivious of their responsibility of the massive health costs associated with their business. And yet, they continue to delay and find ever-more wild reasons not to comply with legislation both in South Africa, and the various international treaties to which we are signatories.
Now we hear that the data that they have been releasing on the amount and extent of emissions is incorrect - and not in a good way. According to the latest reports, Eskom have been under-reporting emission levels as a matter of course for the past how-many years, and their response has been to say that it has been an internal error! Really? Is that the best they can say about something that has widespread national and international implications? The last time I heard of this kind of under-reporting was when Volkswagen were caught with their emission-bending systems and got caught out. That cost them billions in Dollar fines around the globe, and yet, our national energy provider will once again, get away with this.
I have high regard for the new CEO and for what he has managed to do over the short time that he has been in charge - and I believe these problems have been aired and brought to light as a result of his efforts to become transparent in the way the parastatal is operated. But it leaves huge questions about every CEO before who was either incapable of seeing through the fog of excuses, or simply ignored the internal warnings that have been flashing. What is needed now is a clean slate and real action by Eskom and their owners - the South African State, to clean their act up and to stop looking for excuses.
Or is the National Environmental Management Act of South Africa just another piece of useless legislation?