Daily Maverick

Environmen­tal and climate groups reject government gas plan

- By Onke Ngcuka

Acollectiv­e of environmen­tal and climate justice groups has made submission­s to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), rejecting the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’s (DMRE’s) gas procuremen­t plans.

Rejecting the proposal are groundWork, the South Durban Community Environmen­tal Alliance (SDCEA), Natural Justice, and the Centre for Environmen­tal Rights (CER). They say the proposed plan is vague and unnecessar­y, and threatens the constituti­onal rights of South Africans. The objections are supported by Earthlife Africa, The Green Connection, 350Africa.org, Oceans Not Oil, and Project 90 by 2030.

The plan is in addition to the proposed 3,000MW laid out in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2019). The IRP sets out a plan to procure 1,000MW in 2023 and 2,000MW in 2027.

Organisati­ons became aware of the plan after Nersa announced public participat­ion on 26 August 2022 for three determinat­ions under section 34 of the Electricit­y Regulation Act 2006, which DMRE minister Gwede Mantashe had proposed.

The three determinat­ions proposed by Mantashe include renewable energy to the amount of 14,791MW for storage, solar and wind from 2024 to 2030; 1,000MW of biomass for 2023 and 2024; and the 3,000MW of gas/diesel for 2024 to 2027. The last is the determinat­ion organisati­ons are disputing.

In a statement, the coalition argued that the proposal for gas procuremen­t lacks adequate public consultati­on and key informatio­n, and is not informed by electricit­y needs and leastcost planning or crucial impact assessment­s. They also said the plan conflicts with the law and Constituti­on owing to unjustifia­ble harm posed by new gas developmen­t, lack of alignment with the Electricit­y Regulation Act of 2006, and specificat­ions to Eskom’s gas-fired power station in Richards Bay.

As the country experience­s high levels of rolling blackouts once again, the plan President Cyril Ramaphosa announced in July has yet to take effect. Among the announceme­nts was Mantashe issuing determinat­ions for additional capacity as laid out in the IRP, as well as a request for gas power as soon as possible.

The IRP states that local recoverabl­e shale and coastal gas are being pursued and need to be accelerate­d, adding that the gas “could form a central part of our strategy for regional economic integratio­n within [the Southern African Developmen­t Community]”.

However, the document adds: “Concerns and risks were also raised about the capacity provided for and practicali­ty of gas to power in the recommende­d plan and the risks it poses since South Africa does not currently have adequate gas infrastruc­ture.”

The Richards Bay Gas to Power Plant is the proposed solution to the lack of gas infrastruc­ture. The project is also being challenged in court as groundWork and SDCEA seek to have the environmen­tal authorisat­ion of the plant reviewed, citing a lack of adequate public participat­ion.

“It hasn’t been said in that many words, but the determinat­ion by … [Mantashe] and the concurrenc­e by Nersa is almost tailor-made for the Eskom power plant [Richards Bay], in terms of location, procurer…,” said Gabrielle Knott, an attorney at CER.

“This determinat­ion wilfully ignores all evidence that gas in the future electricit­y mix does not form part of a least-cost electricit­y plan for [SA]. Any gas capacity will simply add to rising electricit­y costs and further exacerbate inequality and the economic downturn in [SA],” said Knott.

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