It is highly likely that President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address next February – the last before the mid-year national election – will provide some clarity on South Africa’s energy future.
At present, everyone is largely in the dark about what is going on. The relatively new Energy Minister, Ben Martins, is an amiable fellow, but he does seem to be having difficulty coming to grips with his admittedly complex portfolio.
It covers everything from petrol pricing, to being the lead department in determining which company is contracted to build the proposed second nuclear power station (three decades after Koeberg), to signing on independent renewable energy producers and to forging the policy environment in which shale gas extraction will take place in the Karoo through hydraulic fracturing (the Mineral Resources Department will hand out the licences). There seems to be little realisation in the departments of Energy and Mineral Resources– which were for some reason separated when Zuma came to power – about the financial impact of their dithering.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has done a report on nuclear power. It was completed in May. But for some reason five months later, it has still not been presented to the cabinet, so the public, and the media, cannot get a glimpse of it. Nor can MPs from all parties serving on the portfolio committees of mineral resources and energy see it.
Cost calculations of the nuclear power programme also appear to be unavailable despite repeated requests. Yet the minister refers to having visited Russia and France to get a better idea of how to expand South Africa’s nuclear footprint. Officials will be dispatched to South Korea and China too.
Department of Energy (DoE) deputy director-general Zizamele Mbambo told journalists this week: “We have indicated that a decision on the investment of [a] nuclear power plant will be made within this financial year… before the end of March 2014.”
Another policy pothole is the integrated resource plan, which does not provide for the building of Coal 3, the latest smelly coal-fired plant, by Eskom. Last year, then energy minister Dipuo Peters, who has swapped portfolios with Martins in transport, said this would be the domain of independent power producers.
That idea has gone out of the window as Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba has stated that it would be an Eskom project. The nuclear project – let’s dub it Nuke 2 – will also fall under Eskom.
Heaven knows where Eskom will generate the funds for these expensive projects. It has already demanded – but did not get – massive increases in electricity tariffs to pay for its ambitious build programme.
DA energy spokesman Lance Greyling pointed out that the National Development Plan placed a huge question mark over nuclear viability. The Energy Research Centre, contracted by the planning commission, stated that it did not believe nuclear power would be needed “for the next five years”. Greyling said nuclear power might never be needed, especially if one considered the potential of gas in the region.
Instead of focusing on building the gas infrastructure linking with Tanzania, Mozambique Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with an eye to linking this to the potential flow of gas from the Karoo, the department appeared to be fixated on the coal-fired and nuclear-fired electricity programmes.
That is, indeed, a good point. Why are we not tapping into the already rich gas fields, building the appropriate gas turbines to produce electricity, and focusing on something the country can afford? - Business Report