It does not have to be a trade-off be­tween jobs and green en­ergy

Finweek English Edition - - Opinion - By Andile Ntingi Eskom’s Grootvlei Power Sta­tion Andile Ntingi

iIt is in­evitable that South Africa has to start re­ly­ing more on clean en­ergy sources, but we also can­not just walk away from our mas­sive coal de­posits, and the thou­sands of jobs it sup­plies. So what is govern­ment to do?

re­cently bumped into a child­hood friend who told me that he is afraid of los­ing his job as a truck driver in the coal fields of Lim­popo and Mpumalanga, as calls grow for the coun­try to em­ploy cleaner en­ergy sources. A few days later, Green­peace de­scribed some of those coal sites as some of the worst pol­luters in the world. The en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists claimed that Mpumalanga province was the world’s largest emit­ter of air­pol­lut­ing ni­tro­gen diox­ide (NO2).

The di­chotomy of these two po­si­tions il­lus­trates the un­en­vi­able po­si­tion in which govern­ment and in­dus­try find them­selves as they try to nav­i­gate the con­cerns of all stake­hold­ers. But there is a way out of this seem­ingly in­tractable predica­ment.

As a truck driver, my friend trans­ports coal from mines in Mpumalanga and Lim­popo to some of Eskom’s 12 power sta­tions in Mpumalanga, where it is used as fuel to gen­er­ate nearly 80% of SA’s elec­tric­ity out­put. Since govern­ment started its re­new­able en­ergy pro­gramme in 2011 to re­duce our coun­try’s re­liance on the NO2-emit­ting coal-fired power sta­tions, peo­ple who earn a liv­ing from coal min­ing and coal trans­porta­tion have been fear­ing that they will lose their jobs and busi­nesses due to the rise of re­new­able power as an al­ter­na­tive en­ergy source to coal.

This frus­tra­tion was brought to pub­lic at­ten­tion in March last year, when about 2 000 coal trans­port work­ers marched to the Pres­i­dency in Pre­to­ria to de­mand that govern­ment de­sist from sign­ing 27 power pur­chas­ing agree­ments linked to bid win­dow 4 of the Re­new­able En­ergy In­de­pen­dent Power Pro­ducer Pro­cure­ment Pro­gramme (REIPPPP).

My friend was among the pro­test­ers who took to the streets af­ter Eskom an­nounced that it would not be re­new­ing con­tracts with coal trans­porters and was plan­ning to de­com­mis­sion some of its old coal-fired power sta­tions in Mpumalanga due to a power sur­plus and the on­go­ing board­ing of the re­new­able IPPs.

This prompted the strike by truck driv­ers, who op­posed the sign­ing of the 27 projects, ar­gu­ing it could lead to 30 000 job losses in the coal min­ing in­dus­try.

The projects were given the green light by govern­ment, and will see in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers (IPPs) in­vest R56bn to sup­ply Eskom with 2 300MW of re­new­able en­ergy.

The ten­sion be­tween the pro-coal lob­by­ists and pro-re­new­able organisations will not go away any­time soon, as nei­ther group is pre­pared to give ground.

IPPs say re­new­ables will pro­mote in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and gen­er­ate em­ploy­ment. More­over, IPPs say so­lar and wind power is a per­fect so­lu­tion to re­vers­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change and re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions, which the coun­try has com­mit­ted to cut­ting by 42% by 2025.

In a stand-off char­ac­terised by two di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed views, the only way around the two ex­treme opin­ions is pol­icy cer­tainty on the op­ti­mal en­ergy mix for SA, tak­ing into ac­count the in­ter­ests of all af­fected par­ties, not the “win­ner-takes all” ap­proach that we have seen.

For too long, the govern­ment has failed to be a de­ci­sive ar­biter be­tween the op­pos­ing groups, while you have peo­ple whose fi­nan­cial well­be­ing is be­ing threat­ened by pol­icy in­de­ci­sive­ness in a weak, job­sshed­ding econ­omy.

Hav­ing said this, I com­mend en­ergy min­is­ter Jeff Radebe for re­leas­ing in Au­gust the long-awaited up­dated In­te­grated Re­source Plan (IRP), or the so-called IRP 2018, to try to elim­i­nate the pol­icy quag­mire and pro­vide clar­ity on our en­ergy roadmap for the next decade.

By 2030, govern­ment en­vis­ages that the coun­try’s en­ergy port­fo­lio will be made up of 34 000MW of coal, roughly 46% of ad­di­tional elec­tric­ity out­put; 11 930MW of gas (16% of ca­pac­ity); 11 442MW of wind (15%); 7 958MW of pho­to­voltaic (PV, or so­lar 10%); and 4 696MW of hy­dropower (6%).

Based on the IRP 2018 pro­jec­tions, coal will still be re­spon­si­ble for sat­is­fy­ing the bulk of SA’s en­ergy needs, but its con­tri­bu­tion to new ca­pac­ity will be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced if govern­ment sticks to the plan. That coal will still be a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to power gen­er­a­tion, ac­count­ing for 65% of to­tal out­put, is a recog­ni­tion that, as a coun­try, we can’t just walk away from this vi­tal re­source. SA has mas­sive de­posits of coal, which can be ex­ploited, go­ing for­ward, us­ing ad­vanced clean coal tech­nolo­gies (CCTs) that en­able more ef­fi­cient com­bus­tion of coal with re­duced car­bon emis­sions.

When min­ing for ex­portable qual­ity coal, and for coal us­able for power gen­er­a­tion with old tech­nol­ogy, there is tonnes of dis­carded coal that is smok­ing on it­self. When it rains, the coal leaches into the ground, caus­ing un­known en­vi­ron­men­tal dan­gers. Per­haps govern­ment, in part­ner­ship with the likes of the Fos­sil Fuel Foun­da­tion, should quan­tify the dis­carded coal, mea­sure its en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact and po­ten­tial eco­nomic value.

And per­haps Eskom can retro­fit or up­grade old power plants with these CCTs (boil­ers and tur­bines) to ex­tend their life, thereby de­lay­ing job losses and costly in­vest­ment in new plants.

Retrofitting Eskom’s coal-fired power sta­tions with CCTs makes sense, given that it is un­der pres­sure to make its power sta­tions com­pli­ant with air qual­ity leg­is­la­tion. In time, the econ­omy will re­cover, trig­ger­ing an in­crease in elec­tric­ity de­mand. This spike in de­mand will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for rapid in­te­gra­tion of new ca­pac­ity from re­new­able IPPs.

But in the mean­time, it is im­por­tant that govern­ment con­sid­ers ex­tend­ing the life of some Eskom power sta­tions to save jobs. ■ ed­i­to­[email protected]­

is the chief ex­ec­u­tive and co-founder of GetBiz, an e-pro­cure­ment and ten­der no­ti­fi­ca­tion ser­vice.

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