Mantashe given 10 days to address energy crisis

The existing IRP2019 plan reflects the amount of energy renewables and must be critically kickstarted to push SA to the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – Liz McDaid, Green Connection.

FIFI PETERS: Talking about the cold, I think a lot of us have been a lot colder than usual throughout this winter, just because not all the time your heater has been available because of load shedding. We do have a power crisis in this country right now and one would argue that desperate times call for desperate measures – like possibly doing away with protocol if it is in the national interest to do so – in this case solving the energy crisis.

So this is essentially what civil society organisations are calling on the Mineral Resources and Energy Minister, Gwede Mantashe, to do. They wrote to the minister today asking him to give the go-ahead for the building of new power generation that can help ease the burden of load shedding in as soon as two years, it would seem.

To tell us more about the contents of the letter and perhaps even the response so far, we are joined by Liz McDaid, the strategic lead of The Green Connection. Liz, thanks so much for your time. What is your personal involvement here, and broadly as a movement what are you calling on the minister to do?

LIZ McDAID: The Green Connection is part of the civil society grouping that has called on the minister to act. I think in a nutshell what we are saying is there is an electricity plan called the IRP2019 [Integrated Resource Plan]. That plan says that every year you would put in so much renewable, so much wind, so much solar, so much coal, so much gas, whatever, as you move forward. And in 2030 we would have so much power on the grid. That plan would ensure that the lights don’t go off.

But … at the moment, the renewable stuff has been delayed. We know that renewables are going into the future, we know that that electricity plan needs updating, but right now the minister can sign off on all the renewable energy that is in that plan – which is about 13 gigawatts. That [would] kickstart the process.

We can then know that, within a couple of years – it’s not the only thing to do because load shedding is happening right now and we don’t want [to have] it for another two years – but at least we [would] have a plan that’s rolling in terms of getting new generation up and coming. Also what that does is drive a demand, sending a signal to South Africa that investors can see we are serious about renewable energy.

That then should attract funding, that allows us to build factories, localisation, jobs, and driving a local economy instead of this stop-start, stop-start, and this absolute fixation on fossil [fuels] that we are getting from the minister, which is just really frustrating.

FIFI PETERS: I’m surprised you are saying the process has been delayed, because recently I thought we were talking about a good news story – that Nersa had approved around 16 projects in the renewable energy space in like 19 days, and there was an expectation that that speed in approving of projects would continue. Are you saying that you’re not seeing that on the ground?

LIZ McDAID: No, that’s a different programme, and we are very happy with that. That is a good news story, but it’s not enough. That’s enabling the smaller plants and, if you remember, we had a situation where that was announced, and then there was a delay, and the land, and that – and now finally we see some action. That’s for smaller power plants to avoid the long licensing process and [to] just be registered with Nersa and get going. So, yes, that is a good news story, but we need more.

FIFI PETERS: Are you saying that presently there are enough players right now to plug the gap of power that needs to be filled by that 13 000 megawatts of renewable power presently?

LIZ McDAID: No. What we’re saying is there isn’t enough, and putting that 13 000MW in just kicks it into the system to start. What we really need to also do is to look at that electricity, the IRP2019 – which was really based on about 2016 figures and updated – because we know that the prices of different technologies have changed, climate change has had a big role. So there’s a need for a much more in-depth look [at] and updating of the electricity plan.

But right now we know that the existing plan has got this amount of renewables, and so kickstarting that pushes us down the line to light at the end of the tunnel, I want to say.

FIFI PETERS: In terms of pricing, do you think that it’s changed for the better, as in would this renewable be coming on board at a much cheaper cost than that at which power is presently being supplied by Eskom?

LIZ McDAID: Yes.

FIFI PETERS: How much cheaper?

LIZ McDAID: Okay, I don’t have the exact numbers, but what I would say is: remember as we go forward into the future, we are looking at carbon taxes – from a climate perspective – on fossils. We’ve seen that the cost of Eskom electricity keeps going up and up and up because of its coal dependency, coal mining. There’s a need for a transition, obviously a just transition. We’re not just switching off, we’re moving slowly.

The renewables don’t have fuel costs. Just build them, the fuel is free. So those are more containable costs and more affordable.

FIFI PETERS: Just circling back to the comment that you made about the delay– and there was a certain level of frustration in your voice – in your view, why do you think things are going at a snail’s place?

LIZ McDAID: Well, unfortunately we have to ask why it is that there’s this constant fixation on gas as a transition fuel, rather than moving directly to renewables, which is what the science and the research is telling us we can do. So the frustration is because we don’t see proper energy planning coming out of the department. And so this is where civil society’s going, ‘Well, if you’re going to delay with the planning, at least get the current plan moving faster’.

FIFI PETERS: So you have given Minister Mantashe until July 17 to respond to your letter. I’m just wondering if you have received any response so far today, or is it too soon?

LIZ McDAID: I think it’s too soon. We haven’t heard anything so far.

FIFI PETERS: How about an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter from the department? [Liz chuckles] That’s where you write a letter to acknowledge that you’ve received it. Have you at least received that?

LIZ McDAID: We should have, but nobody’s told me that we’ve got it yet.

FIFI PETERS: What happens if you don’t get the response within the 10 days that you’ve given the minister? What next?

LIZ McDAID: In our view, the energy minister is the person who needs to step up and acknowledge that they’re accountable and they are our minister, they are our government and therefore they should respond to us.

If that doesn’t happen, then our plan is to call on the president. He is in charge overall, and presumably he wants the energy crisis to be solved. If Minister Mantashe is serious about it, he should be able to join and work with us, and say, ‘Yes, thank you, I’m doing it’. But if not, we will be calling on his boss.

FIFI PETERS: Just circling back to the comment that you made [that] not only does this help with our energy needs, but there’s also a potential positive spinoff for jobs, because I think that a lot of us – we’re not experts in the energy field like yourself – when we hear some of the pushback to the renewables side of things, and going at a faster pace, there’s always the fear of what this means for jobs, particularly jobs that are presently in the fossil-fuel space, the coals, even the likes of gas. Could this potentially have a positive spin for jobs, positive enough to offset some of the concerns?

LIZ McDAID: I definitely think so because I think the way that some of the narrative has been spun is that we are going to switch off coal, we’re going to switch off all the fossil, and now we’re just going to run. That’s never going to happen. That’s not how it works.

So people who are sitting in their current jobs should be secure in their jobs. What we are talking about is creating additional jobs. And then, as the transition happens, those people in that sector at the moment would receive some sort of just transition space, which they need to give input into. It’s not that somebody shouldn’t be coming and imposing that ‘now you’re a coal miner, now you must become a wind technician’. No, it should be a whole conversation and a really just transition.

FIFI PETERS: Well, Liz, I’ll leave it there and hopefully catch up with you in 10 days and see what kind of response has been received. Hopefully a positive one, whatever that positive one looks like.

That’s Liz McDaid, the strategic lead for The Green Connection.

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