South African coal lobby loses court challenge over 2.3 GW of renewables

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Time has finally run out on a bid by the Coal Transporters Forum of South Africa to cancel 27 renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPAs) which financially troubled utility Eskom signed several years ago – including 813 MW of solar generation capacity across 12 sites.

The nation’s Supreme Court of Appeal in January struck down a complaint by the fossil fuel lobby group that Eskom had not followed due process before finalizing PPAs linked to generation capacity allocated in the nation’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP). The Coal Transporters Forum based its argument on claims the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) had failed to officially approve a particular authorization that was key to the PPA award process.

“The time frame to petition the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal [the January decision] has now passed, which finally closes the door on this case,” said Ntombifuthi Ntuli, chief executive of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA).

The complainant was attempting to prevent the completion of power purchase deals awarded under the fourth round of the REIPPPP, which was completed in 2015. The contracts were unsigned when the coal lobby group launched its legal challenge.

Rejected

The Supreme Court of Appeal also rejected the complainant’s contention the REIPPPP would harm the finances of Eskom. The judgment followed two previous lower-court rulings against the Coal Transporters Forum (CTF) in March last year and June.

“The CTF legal challenge was launched on the basis of arguments which had no legal basis and which demonstrated little appreciation of [the] government’s clear commitment to achieving a more diverse energy mix that would build national energy security while also addressing national climate objectives and achieving local economic development,” said SAWEA’s Ntuli.

Eskom has finally signed the 27 contracts after dragging its heels for three years. The utility’s April 2018 decision to sign the power purchase deals firmly put the country’s utility scale solar industry back on track following a prolonged period of uncertainty.

The CTF had to cover the costs of Eskom, NERSA, the minister of energy and the renewable project owner respondents, for each of the court cases.