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By Martin Williams

Councillor at City

How Eskom can win friends instead of making us pay for sunshine

Only the very rich can afford to be truly off-grid and therefore exempt from an availability charge.

Like other solar power users, I was shocked to read that Eskom wants us to pay R938 a month.

This would undermine the cost-saving motivation for investing in solar.

Thrift is not the only reason people go “off-grid”. We want reliable supply.

The headline: “Solar power users must pay R938 per month even if they don’t use our electricity – Eskom” is not entirely accurate. R938 is indeed proposed.

It is an increase of R720 from the R218 which customers are already paying – not because they use solar, but because they use less Eskom electricity.

ALSO READ: Load shedding: A step-by-step plan for ditching Eskom and going off grid

Notably, the R938 monthly is for users connected to the grid. It’s a steep increase but won’t affect those not connected to the grid.

“Availability” charges are not uncommon to customers of Eskom and municipalities.

For example, in Johannesburg, residents must pay Pikitup even if they don’t use the service.

There is no opt-out. You pay a sewer charge based on stand size, even for an empty plot. If you have a borehole, you pay a water availability charge.

On the City Power portion of your City of Joburg bill, you see network surcharge, service charge and network charge.

Eskom’s R938 proposal is not labelled as a solar tax, even if solar users will be affected because they use less Eskom power.

People have been paying R218 a month to remain connected to the grid, so the principle is established.

The scale of the increase is wicked and unfair. How many households can afford to go offgrid? Recent stage 6 and 4 power cuts left inverters depleted.

Gaps between switch-offs were not long enough to recharge batteries.

READ MORE: Load shedding relief: Mantashe given renewable energy ultimatum

Gate motors and fridges were among the casualties. To be truly off-grid is not easy.

Former The Citizen columnist, energy expert Andrew Kenny, this week repeated a challenge to scribe Peter Bruce and Mark Swilling to put their money where their mouths are.

They are credited with a proposal that “10,000MW of renewables and 5,000MW of batteries would end all load shedding”.

Kenny writes in The Daily Friend: “To run a national grid on solar, wind and batteries is not only catastrophic for the environment and the economy but impossible.

“However, it is possible, although at a huge cost, to run a household on them.

“I challenge Bruce and Swilling: cut off your electricity connection to Eskom or your municipality; forsake gas, coal, diesel and other CO2 emitting fuels; and run all the heating and cooking for your house throughout winter with just solar, wind and batteries.

“Go on! Do it! And report back to us with all the expenses and energy usage.”

Only the very rich can afford to be truly off-grid and therefore exempt from an availability charge.

ALSO READ: First load shedding and fuel hikes, now Eskom wants 32.66% tariff bid – Nersa to consult

We need a system where small domestic users can feed power back into a grid.

The Western Cape is moving in this direction. Feed-in rates could be designed to encourage people to offset availability charges.

In this way, Eskom, or another operator, and customers would both benefit. Win-win.

Instead of being pilloried for “making us pay for sunshine”, Eskom would be embraced as a partner.