from the editor
don’t pay too much attention to Eskom’s efforts to blame renewable energy providers for the fact that it has to close a number of coal-fired power stations in the coming years. It is about time that the scandal-ridden utility, which operates thanks to huge government guarantees, has its iron grip over electricity generation and distribution in the country loosened.
Moneyweb reported that Eskom will expedite plans to close four power stations in order to accommodate independent power producers (IPPs), as electricity demand remains flat. Eskom, citing costs, initially tried to get out of signing contracts with the IPPs, but is having its hand forced by the department of energy. (The cynic would wonder if the parastatal’s reluctance to get more renewable power on the grid doesn’t have everything to do with those lucrative coal supply and transport contracts those with close links to Eskom have seemingly been benefitting from.)
Energy expert Chris Yelland said on Twitter that Eskom’s decision “to blame renewable energy for the scheduled and long-planned closure of its ageing coal-fired power stations is truly disingenuous”. The old stations are bad for SA in many ways, he stated, highlighting the high coal and coal transport costs, road damage, and the impact of air and water pollution on public health. “Eskom’s ageing coal-fired power stations do not and will never comply with SA’s environmental protection laws and regulations,” he added.
Mike Levington, interim CEO of the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association, said the reality is that, according to Eskom’s plans, 12 coal-fired plants are due to be closed by 2040, as they are too expensive to refit. In addition, the latest integrated resource plan shows that gas and renewable energy will be the cheapest for South African consumers, while it is also the option that creates the most jobs.
“If Eskom and the National Union of Mineworkers were forward-thinking, they should plan on how coal workers are retrained,” Levington added on Twitter.
That would be the smart thing to do, if the US can serve as a lesson. A recent report by The Solar Foundation showed the US solar industry employed 260 077 workers last year, an increase of nearly 25% since 2015. More Americans now work in solar energy than at natural gas or coal-fired power plants, according to data from the US department of energy.
The solar boom in the US is mainly thanks to a rise in rooftop installations, which has been driven by the rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels, according to The Solar Foundation. Eskom is foolish if it thinks South African consumers won’t catch up to the trend.