Fri, 15 Nov 2019

Now that government has finalised its vision for the country's energy mix for the next decade, attention can be turned to addressing problems at Eskom, a labour spokesperson has said.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on Friday briefed media on the recently Integrated Resources Plan for 2019 (IRP2019). The 100-page document was gazetted on Friday morning. The plan is a blueprint for future energy generation, including projected electricity demand, cost estimates, and a breakdown of power sources.

It promotes an energy mix comprised of coal, wind, solar, hydro, gas and nuclear for the next decade. While the plan does not make provision for additional capacity for nuclear energy up until 2030, government will look into building new nuclear capacity after 2030.

Commenting on the plan, parliamentary coordinator for the Congress of South African Trade Unions Matthew Parks told Fin24 by phone that the labour federation is happy with some of the concessions government made to include various types of sources in the energy mix. However, the IRP has a drawback in that it does not address the "existential crisis" facing Eskom daily, he said.

Not dealing with these issues could mean Eskom won't be around in 10 years' time, Parks warned.

The power utility is battling with a debt burden of over R450bn. Apart from its financial challenges, it also has to contend with operational challenges. This week the power utility reintroduced load shedding, following a shortage of capacity brought on by failing units and the breaking down of a conveyor belt that transports 4 000 tons of coal from Exxaro's Grootgeluk Mine to Medupi Power Station in Limpopo. Eskom had to manually transport the coal using bulldozers, according to a spokesperson.

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Parks was part of the labour representatives who gave input in discussions on the IRP with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

According to Parks, after the IRP was finalised, it was agreed to set up a high level task team, including senior officials from government and other stakeholders to work on fixing the "core crisis" at Eskom. The task team will meet every two weeks for the next six months with the intention to develop a short, medium to long term solutions for Eskom.

Parks criticised the plan for not reflecting the extent of the problems at Eskom - such as plummeting demand for energy from Eskom as people opt to go off-grid.

However, at the media briefing on Friday, Mantashe said the plan recognises the challenges of Eskom's plant performance creates a supply and demand gap that needs to be addressed. "The current load shedding is testimony to this. We urgently need to secure additional capacity in order to increase reserve margins," Mantashe said.

The department of mineral resources and energy plans to issue a request for information on supply and demand options available to be incorporated "in the shortest possible time at reasonable cost," Mantashe said.

Just transition

The IRP recognises there will be a decommissioning of approximately 24 100 MW of coal power between 2030 and 2050. This calls for an engagement process to ensure a social just transition and to mitigate against negative impact on communities and local economies.

Parks said that the just transition relating to the coal plants reaching the end of their life span will be discussed now that the IRP is finalised. "There is a whole plethora of opportunities [for jobs], from renewables under Eskom ownership or community ownership, water conservation, agricultural land rehabilitation, the planting of trees or investing in solar panels," Parks said. He believes a "win-win" solution can be found for jobs and the environment.

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