Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - BY JAMES STYAN

It’s go­ing to cost tril­lions of rand to keep South Africa’s lights on. A more ac­cu­rate es­ti­mate is im­pos­si­ble at this point, but it’s a fact that fix­ing the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity sup­ply prob­lems will re­quire the most am­bi­tious and ex­pen­sive cap­i­tal ex­pan­sion pro­gramme that the coun­try has ever em­barked upon.

Ques­tions about the af­ford­abil­ity and f inanc­ing of such an ex­pan­sion pro­gramme have been thrown around for the last five years, stalling progress to a large ex­tent. This noise is now dy­ing down as the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity sup­ply reaches cri­sis level. When the lights start go­ing out reg­u­larly, then most ar­gu­ments about the need for new en­ergy projects tend to fade away.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma men­tioned the word ‘en­ergy’ 29 times in his last State of the Na­tion Ad­dress, the first of his sec­ond term as pres­i­dent, thereby sig­nalling the in­ten­tion to use his last term to re­vi­talise the en­ergy sec­tor.

It may be­come his great­est legacy. If he gets it right.

The projects which the pres­i­dent is moot­ing are bold and – many would say – out­ra­geous. It will lead to reams of front-page de­bates and scandal head­lines in the years to come. The ques­tion how­ever must be asked: can SA af­ford to pro­long the roll-out of projects like frack­ing, new coal-fired power sta­tions, re­new­able en­ergy projects and a nu­clear build pro­gramme any longer?

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