A shift from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able sources of power may ir­repara­bly harm those work­ing in SA’s dirty en­ergy sec­tor

CityPress - - Business - STEVE KRETZMANN busi­ness@city­press.co.za

The pre­dicted loss of about 100 000 jobs in the coal sec­tor over the next decade due to the shift from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able en­ergy has raised the spec­tre of ghost towns and de­stroyed com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­lary in the coal-re­liant province of Mpumalanga.

Al­though th­ese jobs are bal­anced by the growth of the gas and re­new­able en­ergy sec­tor as South Africa shifts its en­ergy mix in line with the new draft In­te­grated Re­source Plan (IRP), the re­new­able en­ergy pro­jects are pre­dom­i­nantly sit­u­ated in the Western and North­ern Cape, far from the coal belts.

The draft IRP, due to be gazetted early next year, sees the share of coal-gen­er­ated elec­tric­ity declining be­tween 2020 to 2030 as coal power plants are de­com­mis­sioned, while the share of re­new­ables and gas in­creases. This aligns with con­straints on green­house gas emis­sions im­posed by our in­ter­na­tional com­mit­ment to com­bat global warm­ing.

The re­cently re­leased In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change’s Spe­cial Re­port on Global Warm­ing of 1.5°C urges even fur­ther re­duc­tions of coal to pre­vent cat­a­strophic global warm­ing, and depart­ment of en­ergy di­rec­tor-gen­eral Tha­bani Zulu re­it­er­ated South Africa’s com­mit­ment to com­bat­ing global warm­ing as he stood in for En­ergy Min­is­ter Jeff Radebe at the an­nual Wind­aba wind en­ergy con­fer­ence in Cape Town this week.

This points to the pos­si­bil­ity of the amount of coal in the en­ergy mix be­ing cut even fur­ther be­fore the new IRP is fi­nalised.

As it stands, 12 000 megawatts (12GW) of coal will be de­com­mis­sioned be­tween 2020 and 2030. Fur­ther­more, the fu­ture of the two coal-fired in­de­pen­dent power pro­ducer pro­jects Thabametsi and Khany­isa, in Lim­popo and Mpumalanga, re­spec­tively, looks un­cer­tain.

In­ter­na­tional and lo­cal pressure to re­strict fund­ing for new coal-fired power plants ap­pears to have given Stan­dard Bank, which is one of the fun­ders, cold feet.

Ren­tia van Ton­der, Stan­dard Bank’s head of power, did not want to com­mit to a po­si­tion when ques­tioned by City Press at Wind­aba, but the fund­ing sit­u­a­tion did not look rosy for the coal in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers.

Speak­ing at the con­fer­ence, Eskom shop stew­ard for the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers, Khangela Baloyi, said it was “clear” that jobs would be lost at Eskom and at the coal mines, as well as in trans­port and other sec­tors of the coal sup­ply chain.

Baloyi said the union ac­cepted this, but a “just and fair tran­si­tion” was needed for work­ers.

He said jobs might be cre­ated in the re­new­able en­ergy sec­tor, “but are they the same quality as those in Eskom and the coal mines, and are they sustainable or just for the con­struc­tion phase?”.

A fur­ther prob­lem was that jobs would be “de­stroyed” in places such as the Ko­mati or Hen­d­rina power sta­tions in Mpumalanga, while the jobs that were be­ing cre­ated were in the North­ern Cape.

“What are you do­ing to the com­mu­nity where you de­stroyed jobs? There will be ghost towns with no eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity,” Baloyi said.

Jesse Bur­ton, a re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s En­ergy Re­search Cen­tre, said an en­ergy tran­si­tion was al­ready un­der way and was in­evitable.

“We’re clos­ing coal plants with no plan as to what to do with the work­ers,” she said, adding that the 2 000MW Hen­d­rina Power Sta­tion was due to be closed next year.

Bur­ton said the in­sti­tu­tion of a frame­work in­volv­ing work­ers, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, provinces and na­tional govern­ment was ur­gently needed.

Gay­lor Mont­mas­son-Clair, se­nior econ­o­mist at Trade & In­dus­trial Pol­icy Strate­gies, said coal ac­counted for up to 40% of the GDP in some of Mpumalanga’s mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and ur­gent plan­ning was needed to stop th­ese ar­eas from fall­ing into ruin.

How­ever, Mont­mas­son-Clair said work­ers in the coal sec­tor did not have to move to re­new­able en­ergy jobs in far-flung provinces. Op­por­tu­ni­ties in tourism, man­u­fac­tur­ing and agri­cul­ture should be in­ves­ti­gated, he said. As for fund­ing th­ese ini­tia­tives, he said South Africa spent up to 15% of its GDP on sub­si­dis­ing fos­sil fu­els, which might be bet­ter redi­rected to sub­si­dis­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­dus­tries in coal-re­liant re­gions.

Radebe’s speech pre­sented by Zulu touched on the is­sue of a just tran­si­tion, say­ing the govern­ment had to in­ten­sify ef­forts to build a lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing base and ad­dress un­em­ploy­ment in partnership with busi­ness to cre­ate in­tern­ships, men­tor­ships and en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­ni­ties. He re­it­er­ated govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to in­vest­ing in re­new­able en­ergy.

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