Johannesburg - Blaming the early closure of some South African
coal-fired electricity plants and subsequent job cuts on renewables is “misdirected”
because generation from the fuel far outpaces clean-power supply, a former
National Planning Commission member said.
burns coal for 90% of its electricity, has stalled on signing
government-brokered deals to buy renewables from independents, saying it’s
expensive and not always available.
Coal truckers in March blocked roads around
the capital with their vehicles after the producer said it won’t renew their
contracts because of a coal and power surplus. A union has also threatened to
strike over green energy that it blames for the planned closure of five Eskom
The surplus has stemmed from weak demand and slow
growth in the economy, the company said. Eskom plans
to close some of its plants by the end of March 2020, resulting in as many as
20 000 job cuts, acting CEO Matshela Koko said March 1.
country’s energy plan assumes the process of closing the five facilities, which
have collective capacity to generate about 8 300 megawatts, will only start in
2020 and end in 2029.
Rather than blaming renewables, the National Union
of Mineworkers “should be questioning Eskom’s decision to close 8 gigawatts of
plant prematurely - that’s a big chunk of power,” Anton Eberhard, an ex-NPC
member and professor at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of
Business, said by email.
Truckers are moving less coal because Eskom is
producing less power than it did in 2007 and because more of the fuel is being
transported by rail, he said. The NPC drew up the government’s blueprint for
growing the economy, which recommends exploiting low-carbon energy.
“It’s hard to believe that independent power
producers are currently having any serious impact on coal trucking or jobs and
again, one has to question who is behind these protests,” he said.
Eberhard estimates that the plants Eskom plans to
close ahead of schedule produced more than 50 terawatt-hours last year.
Renewable energy generated less than 7 terawatt-hours in the same period, he
said, citing the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
The company will study the effects of the proposed
closures before any action is undertaken, Khulu Phasiwe said March 31.
The producer stepped up criticism of renewables
last year, saying the electricity it’s compelled to buy through the program is
expensive. Eskom is building about 9 600 megawatts of coal-fired capacity
that’s over budget and years behind schedule.
The latest independent power producer projects “are
proving to be cheaper than any of Eskom’s new power stations and if we block
IPPs, we will be compromising electricity prices and economic growth,” Eberhard
The Department of Energy’s programme has drawn R194bn of investment, and 2 200 megawatts have been
connected to the national grid from 44 projects.
Developers have been waiting
for Eskom to sign offtake agreements on another 37 projects worth R58bn that will generate 2 354 megawatts, according to the government. Eskom
said in March it would sign the pacts after President Jacob Zuma ordered it to
do so. Talks on the purchases are ongoing, Phasiwe said.
While Eskom’s Koko has spoken with the mineworkers’
union about the planned closures, the labour organisation hasn’t discussed the
issue with the IPPs, NUM President Piet Matosa said. It’s up to the ruling
African National Congress to change its policy regarding the program, he said.
Two units of Komati have already been idled, and
Eskom will start closing Hendrina from December next year, Phasiwe said. “The same
principle will apply to other identified power stations.”
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