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  • Eveready Group

Lights waste more than electricity

Date: 28 August 2007

The thing about the high-mast lights that are burning unceasingly in many of our metro‘s townships is that, besides the wasted money, there is also a substantial environmental cost.

If you multiply the 6kW used on a high-mast light by 12 hours a day that the light should not be burning, you get 72kW a day of wasted electricity or 2160kW a month. There are an estimated 150 high-mast lights in the metro that are malfunctioning in this way. So that‘s 324000kW of wasted electricity each month.

Eskom‘s 2005 annual report says one kilowatt-hour (kW/h) equates to 0,963 of a kilogram of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas identified as responsible for climate change and global warming. Multiply 0,963 by 324000kW and you get 312012kg a month of carbon dioxide being spewed out, unnecessarily, because of these lights, from the utility‘s coal-fired resource base. These emissions are directly affecting communities in areas like Mpumalanga where these power stations are situated, and contributing to global warming.

Confirming my sums, Rhodes researcher Dr Mike Powell says it would take 30 years and cost more than R½-million to offset these emissions, by planting carbon sequestrating spekboom (which is what a department of water affairs and forestry project is doing in the Baviaanskloof). And creating electricity from coal also creates other pollutants, he notes: sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (both of which have been linked to acid rain), PM10 (linked to respiratory ailments) and volatile organic compounds (some of which are toxic and all of which create smog).

One of the most significant things I‘ve discovered in researching this column, however, is that wasting electricity also carries a huge water cost. According to the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, a typical 500- megawatt coal-fired power plant draws about 8,3-billion litres of water each year from nearby water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans, to create steam for turning its turbines. This is enough water to support a city of approximately 250000 people.

Ironically, as the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has itself noted, some of these emissions and part of the cost wastage (about R116000 a month) is being offset by the fair proportion of high mast lights which do not work at all, even at night when they are supposed to, or which work only partly. Mitigating negatives with further inefficiency is clearly not the high road we should be aiming for, however. There are many other examples of electricity wastage and our municipality is by no means the only guilty party. Most of us from households to business to industry could be doing much better. But these high-mast lights do stick out and, most pertinently, they‘re powered with taxpayers‘ money. And state agencies should be setting an example.

At the recent SANParks Kudu Awards gala evening in Pretoria, as we reported, the Eastern Cape shone with wins in three of the five main external categories – Babalwa Puzi-Koko of Mngcangcathelo in Transkei for best environmental educator, the Port Elizabeth- based Wilderness Foundation for best contribution by a non-profit organisation and Mantis Collection for best public-private partnership (which this week won “Africa‘s leading safari” category at the 14th annual World Travel Awards in Abu Dhabi). But it was an even bigger evening in Pretoria for the province because one of the key internal SANParks awards also came our way. The SANParks chief executive award for best performing region went to the Frontier Region which comprises three Eastern Cape parks (Addo Elephant, Camdeboo near Graaff-Reinet and Mountain Zebra near Cradock) and one in the Western Cape (Karoo near Beaufort West).

Frontier Region spokesman Megan Bradfield says one of the aspects which impressed the judges was that accumulated revenue for the region increased 18,1 per cent from April last year to April this year, from R31-million to R37-million. The main contributors to this growth in revenue were an increase of 17% in conservation fees received and a 10% increase in tourism income. Basically, lots more visitors were coming in and taking part in many more activities, she says. In the tourism sector, unit occupancy increased by 2, 2% across the parks in the region. Bed nights increased by 7, 3% and camping occupancy increased by 11, 3%. Visitor numbers overall increased by 16, 7% and total activities like guided game drives and trails increased by 13%.

The eco-education aspect is being facilitated by the youth-oriented Kids in Parks Programme in the Addo Elephant and Camdeboo, and by the Mayibuye Ndlovu Development Trust, which creates benefits for communities around the Addo Park in particular. A total 18661 school pupils and 2793 adults visited the frontier region parks for environmental education over the past year.

At the same time these four parks have increased biodiversity and expanded. Cheetahs were introduced into Mountain Zebra National Park, becoming the first large predators to be reintroduced, and both cheetah and oribi were introduced into the Addo Elephant National Park. Two black rhino calves have been born in the Mountain Zebra National Park, crucial additions to this critically endangered species. Addo increased its protected areas to 164233ha, Camdeboo increased to 19397ha and Karoo National Park concluded four land deals to increase its size and consolidate that park.

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