No plans yet for cooling tower site

The City has yet to finalise plans for the site where the Athlone Power Station cooling towers were demolished nearly 13 years ago. Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency/ANA.

It has been nearly 13 years since the demolition of the Athlone Power Station cooling towers, but the City has yet to finalise plans for the site.

Affectionately known as the “Two Ladies of Athlone”, the towers were demolished in August 2010, after coal-fired operations ceased in 2003.

The Athlone Power Station, covering a 36-hectare site, opened in 1962 and operated uninterrupted as a 180-megawatt facility until 1985. It was held on standby between 1986 and 1994, and then put back into full service until 2003, but operations were found to be uneconomical and terminated that same year, according to mayoral committee member for energy Beverley van Reenen.

The City met with Pinelands residents at the town hall on Wednesday January 25 to provide an update on the future redevelopment of the site, where currently a 36MW gas turbine is in service as well a 66 kilovolt switching station as part of the City’s electricity grid network.

Pinelands residents were eager to find out what the City planned to do with the site and whether this would directly affect them, especially those close to the site. They also wanted to know if anything would come from the old plans, which included building low-cost housing, a taxi rank, a railway and a bridge.

But City officials said no plans had been set in stone as yet and they were considering their options, specifically looking at how they could use the existing infrastructure to ease the burden of load shedding.

At the session, a City energy directorate official Shane Prins said that with a new focus on renewable and sustainable energy, the City was considering replacing the existing open-cycle gas turbine power plant with newer machines; installing a vertical-axis wind turbine on the remaining rooftops and installing a green hydrogen electrolyser, which uses renewable energy to produce hydrogen, as a pilot project.

Mr Prins said the City was also considering building an energy/training walkthrough centre, a media multi-use centre, a commercial and industrial precinct and a slow railway track along the site.

“We are here simply to engage with the community and not present any plans as this is all in the ideation phase. The redevelopment had been stalled for years, mainly due to the legal battles, coupled with the pandemic and the energy crisis, but there is some traction now,” he said.

The site had been earmarked for mixed-use development, including shops and flats, in 2010, but that proposal had been canned, he said, due to the landfill site buffer zone, restrictions from flood line and wetlands, limited transport access and contamination. Added to that, lengthy and continued court battles had hampered the decommissioning programme and to date no official plans for the site had been made.

Ms Van Reenen said the City had for some years planned the decommissioning of the station and the re-purposing of the site. Authority was granted for the demolition of the chimney stacks and ash-handling plant in February 2020, she said.

“A heritage activist organisation appealed the authorisation granted to the City. The appeal was heard by the ministerial tribunal of Heritage Western Cape (HWC), and was dismissed in February 2021. The organisation did not take the appeal finding on review to the high court, and it remains final and binding.

“The heritage activist organisation then applied to HWC for the declaration of the entire site as a provincial heritage site. The heritage activist organisation acceded to the City’s request to exclude certain components of the site from any future declaration. In August 2022, the Inventories, Grading and Interpretation Committee (IGIC) of HWC recommended that notification of provisional protection of the site be given in terms of Section 27 of the National Heritage Resources Act,” she said.

Ms Van Reenen said the City had met with the immediately surrounding communities of Pinelands, Athlone and Langa between July 2022 and January 2023 to discuss future plans for the site.

“The City’s energy directorate sees a huge potential for this site, which will assist in the transformation of the City’s energy footprint.The City continues to investigate all uses of the site. All due processes are being followed and members of the public are invited to engage with the City, and information on relevant procurement processes will be released in due course,” she said.

City of Cape Town official Shane Prins.
Residents at the community engagement session.