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Eskom planned to decommission ages ago

Energy
Johannesburg - As the anger towards renewable energy over Eskom’s plans to decommission some of its power stations festers, the power utility on Friday said that independent power producers (IPPs) were not the only factor that led to its decision not to extend the life of the power stations.

Coal truckers contracted to Eskom and trade unions, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) have directed their ire at the IPPs after Eskom said it would shut down five old coal-fired power stations in order to create space for electricity from the IPPs.

But the Integrated Resource Plan 2010-2030 and Eskom’s Transmission Development Plan 2016-2025 are among documents that show that the decommissioning of the power stations have been part of Eskom’s plans for a while.

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File picture: Nic Bothma/EPA

Eskom’s Transmission Development Plan 2016-2025, released in October 2015, said the power utility planned to decommission three power stations - Hendrina, Camden and Arnot - by 2025 “in line with their decommissioning schedules.”

The plan said: “Eskom has started to consider the decommissioning of the older coal-fired power station units. According to the proposed Eskom schedule, units will start to be decommissioned at Camden and Hendrina from 2020.”

On the other hand, a November 2016 Department of Energy document called IRP Update Assumptions and Base Case, also confirmed that Camden and Hendrina were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2020.

Eskom spokesperson, Khulu Phasiwe on Friday confirmed that there were prior plans to close the power stations.

Read also: Eskom wants to mothball five plants

A number of factors, including low economic growth and the IPP capacity, had prompted the utility to bring the decommissions forward.

Eskom had a plan to prolong the life of the power stations, he said. The Eskom board approved the move in April last year. “The board basically said, for as long as there is coal next to a power station, we must continue,” he said.

But a combination of sluggish economic growth, electricity overcapacity and the requirement for Eskom to buy IPP power saw the utility rethink the decision in November last year, he said. As of January this year, Eskom has connected 62 IPP projects, adding 4200MW of generation capacity to the electricity grid.

Phasiwe said if the economy was growing at a higher rate, Eskom would elongate the life of the power stations, suggesting that the IPPs were not the single factor in the decision to decommission the plants. In the six months to end of September last year, Eskom’s overall electricity sales volumes increased by 1.2 percent.

Mark Pickering, chairman of the South African Wind Energy Association and board member of the South African Renewable Energy Council, on Friday said that it was a mistake for the truckers and the unions to blame the renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme for the decision to decommission the power stations.

Pickering said there were demand and supply factors behind Eskom’s decision. The power utility had long planned to close the power stations, which were old. “When it comes to excess capacity the real issue is that the economy is not growing. These factors led to the decision to retire the power stations.” It was wrong to blame IPPs which contributed approximately 5percent of the power in South Africa. “It is government policy to move away from coal,” he said.

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