from the ed­i­tor

JANA MARAIS

Finweek English Edition - - CONTENTS -

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.

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