A landmark decision by the Water Tribunal confirms that water licensing authorities must consider the impacts of climate change when deciding whether or not to grant water use licences for new coal-fired power stations.
In a decision handed down on July 21, the tribunal upheld an appeal against the setting aside of two water use licences granted by the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation (DWS) to Acwa Power for the development of a new coal-fired power station, Khanyisa.
The tribunal found that the water use licence application was “procedurally flawed”, but also that the licensing authority “had not adequately weighed up the impact of climate change on water security in the region”.
Centre for Environmental Rights attorney Michelle Koyama says the tribunal's decision means that, when considering a water use licence application for a coal power plant, the DWS “must consider the impacts of climate change on water when deciding whether or not the project will amount to the efficient and beneficial use of water in the public interest”.
Prior to this, she adds, there was no explicit requirement to include the impacts of climate change when considering factors relevant to the decision to issue licences under the National Water Act.
The tribunal has directed Acwa Power to rectify the procedural flaws, re-advertise the application and conduct the public participation process by September 21.
This will affect its preferred bidder status in the 2014 Coal Baseload Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, as a valid water use licence is required for the project to reach commercial and financial close.