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By Getrude Makhafola

Premium Journalist

Ramapromises: 2022 Sona’s green energy plans in doubt under Mantashe

An expert says Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe's love for coal is unwarranted, since the country needs a mix of energy sources.

The transferal of ailing power utility Eskom from the Department of Public Enterprises to that of Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe carries no certainties for speedy relief from the country’s energy crisis, and could hamper plans for a shift to increased renewable energy.

The governing African National Congress’ (ANC) decision last year to incorporate Eskom into Mantashe’s portfolio has left many wondering whether the state’s plan to procure renewable energy as outlined in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2022 state of the nation address, will ever move with speed.

A known advocate for coal, Mantashe hasn’t shied away from making his stance clear when it comes to the just energy transition.

Announcing goals to mitigate electricity blackouts during his Sona speech last year, Ramaphosa outlined a mixed energy plan to boost Eskom’s grid, but to date, nothing has been onboarded.

Mantashe ‘not appropriate’ to fight power crisis

University of Free State (UFS) energy and engineering expert Nicolaas Esterhuysen, said Mantashe was not convincing enough to adequately lead the country out of the power crisis.

“I am not convinced he is the right person to drive the energy transition in this country. He is seemingly actively acting against Eskom in some of his recent statements, and that’s difficult for me to comprehend because he wants to be wholly responsible for an entity, but at the same time says Eskom is sabotaging government?” said Esterhuysen.

ALSO READ: How SA’s addiction to coal is sacrificing the planet to try keep the lights on

He said it was not Eskom’s job to come up with an energy strategy, but that of government.

“We need to push renewables, get it going, and remove the red tape. The department is responsible for coming up with a strategy and outlook on energy consumption – how it will look in 10 or 20 years’ time… I think there are so many issues going on in the department of energy.”

Esterhuysen believes Mantashe fears job losses in the coal sector.

“The plan is for an energy mix. But also, a transfer of skills from the coal sector to others is viable. In any way, South Africa is not in a good position, even in the next 20 years, to do away with coal.

“Mantashe seems to be stuck in his own ways. The energy mix involves other sources including coal, and I think renewable and fossils are missing each other’s point in this crisis.”

He said renewables can help ease the pressure but the main current problem is the reliability of Eskom’s power plants.

Government yet to meet targets

Despite signing contracts with independent power producers as far back as 2021, South Africans are yet to experience an ease in electricity shortages.

So far, the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) has signed 1.909 MW of energy capacity with government.

Ramaphosa, who spearheads the just energy transition, has been adamant that the country needed to move from coal reliance.

READ MORE: Ramaphosa promises ‘measures’ to end load shedding are coming soon

“Due to our ageing power stations, poor maintenance, policy missteps, and the ruinous effects of state capture, our country has a shortfall of around 4,000 MW of electricity.

“During the past year [2021], we have taken firm steps to bring additional generation capacity online as
quickly as possible to close the shortfall,” he said in his speech last year.

These are some of the President’s promises –

  • Over 500 MW from the remaining projects in Bid Window 4 of the renewable energy programme, which are at the advanced stage of construction
  • 2,600 MW from Bid Window 5 of the renewable energy programme, for which the preferred
    bidders were announced
  • 3,000 MW of gas power and 500 MW of battery storage, for which requests for proposals will be
    released later this year [2022].

So far, none of the more than 6000 MW of power promised has been forthcoming, mainly due to the Eskom grid capacity problems and red tape.

Furthermore, the state is yet to put out a request for proposals for gas power and battery storage.

No ‘rush for green energy’ in private sector

Answering questions from journalists at the Mining Indaba being held in Cape Town, the minister acknowledged Eskom’s grid problems, but said he is yet to see “a stampede” by companies to build renewable energy generation capacity for the private sector.

“I hear that there is 9GW in the pipeline, the problem with that is it’s something that you can’t put your head on the block for.

“Grid is a problem at Eskom. We announced Bid Window 5 for 1000 MW in December, we couldn’t announce the other from wind farms because of the grid problem. Unfortunately, Eskom is not under our mandate, I cannot walk in there and say ‘build the grid quickly in the Northern Cape and all other areas, I can’t. It’s not in our portfolio,” said the former mining unionist.

He dismissed concerns over red tape, saying licencing was no longer required to build energy alternatives.

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