Mike Baillie
Mike Baillie

Kusile protest: Greenpeace disputes Eskom claims

I was one of the Greenpeace climbers who scaled the crane inside Eskom’s Kusile construction plant on Monday morning. In climbing the crane and dropping the two banners, our goal was to highlight the true cost of coal-fired electricity in South Africa. We wanted to put Kusile back on the agenda after months of dialogue, research, and engagement with both Eskom and the government. And we are calling for an end to the construction of Kusile because of its massive social, environmental and economic costs.

There was absolutely no intent for violence, and we most certainly carried no weapons. These outrageous claims were made on SABC’s “Morning Live” on Tuesday morning. Steve Lennon, Eskom’s corporate services managing director, made the allegation that we had threatened security guards and carried weapons during the action.

My first response when I heard this ridiculous claim was to shake my head and laugh out loud. Either Greenpeace is painted as a frivolous hippie organisation, or — when we get too close to home — we are branded as violent activists. The irony is that non-violence is one of Greenpeace’s core principles, and it’s something the organisation takes very seriously. Around the world Greenpeace is known for its non-violent direct action. We are often unconventional in the way we protest, but we are a peaceful organisation, to the core.

So I can only think that Eskom has resorted to this blatant fabrication because we struck a nerve. They are humiliated that Greenpeace activists accessed their facility and occupied the crane for almost two hours before they noticed we were there. When we came down from the crane all our equipment was searched and emptied onto the ground. We had no weapons! (Though the solar panel I had with me was very closely scrutinised.)

But perhaps Eskom’s embarrassment goes back further than Monday’s events.

About two weeks ago Greenpeace Africa released a study on what the damage costs of Kusile coal-fired plant would be. The findings were staggering, and flew straight in the face of what Eskom has been telling the public about coal being the cheapest energy source for South Africa. Seventy percent of the total damage cost of Kusile was related to the massive amount of water that the coal-fired power station would be using for its electricity generation.

Confronted with the condemning report, Eskom failed to read the study and prematurely dismissed it. (Either that, or they simply are unaware of the technology they are installing.) On a 702 radio show, Eskom said the study’s calculations were grossly off the mark and had overstated the expense; Greenpeace had failed to take into account that Kusile would use so-called dry-cooling technology.

So then it must have been very embarrassing for Eskom when we pointed out that in fact we had taken the technology into account, our numbers, as shocking as the results are, were based on those exact dry-cooling specifications. The study makes specific reference to them: “These two stations [Medupi and Kusile] will apply dry-cooling technology in order to reduce their water consumption … Kusile and Medupi will require 0.66 m3 of water per MWh generated (this includes water demanded for flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) and coal washing).”

Eskom’s response backfired spectacularly.

Skip forward about two weeks and Eskom has resorted to baseless fabrications in order to detract from the arguments Greenpeace is making. Accusing Greenpeace activists of having carried weapons is a shameful attempt to detract from our protest and discredit the organisation and the damning report that supports our action. It is a petty means to shift the public’s attention away from monster that is Kusile and the incredible damage it will cause in South Africa.

Greenpeace is expressly nonviolent, illustrated very clearly by the word “peace” in the organisation’s name.

The bottom line is that Eskom has a morbid fascination with fossil fuels and is hopelessly addicted to coal. When Eskom lowers itself to a level of accusing Greenpeace activists of violence and carrying weapons, then one realises how severe the coal addiction really is.

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