Ramokgopa to err is to be human, but tomorrow can you ensure light?

Dr Kgosientso Ramokgopa. File photo

Dr Kgosientso Ramokgopa. File photo

Published Mar 6, 2024


Power plants have no time limit. This was the most interesting, yet under-reported, finding in the European-based VGBE consortium’s report.

The life of a plant can be extended nearly indefinitely except for circumstantial changes and considerations in the technical financial and socio-economic political climate, which may prevail at the time of considering such decisions, on whether to downscale and shut down units or decommission a power plant completely. But a baseload power plant can run indefinitely, it notes.

According to proper engineering science a power plant can go on in perpetuity if it is well managed and maintained. So on that note alone the report totally dispels the much created hype and fear tactic that says power stations must be shut down because they reached their end of life.

Whenever anti-coal pundits want to justify their obsession with the shutting down of power plants they usually cite this particular view, which says a power station has reached its end of life, must be decommissioned and shut down.

So the matter is finally settled. There is no valid reason for shutting down any power station and plant units. To state otherwise is misinformation.

South Africa needs energy in abundance and, like China and Russia, should be building more coal-based and nuclear power stations, which are able to produce more megawatts of power.

And later on start tapping into environmentally friendly technologies using the coal-bed methane gas from the coal field to produce clean gas for power generation.

I am stating the VGBE report facts so that those in positions of power can stop making irrational, misled decisions that are not based on science, which are driven by anti-fossil fuels and renewable energy lobby interests.

If these lobbyists have their way, the price of producing electricity will rise.

This as South Africa currently enjoys relatively cheap and locally available energy generation resources such as coal and its related extractable resources such as crude, gas and synthetic fuels easily extractable out of coal.

All energy generation technologies should exist side by side. But that is not possible unless a climate of hostility and enmity is created in the process to justify some of the lies and misinformation given to people in positions of power.

ANC policy U-turn

The plan to privatise Eskom through the back door under the disguise of unbundling the utility into different operational companies is of concern.

This brings me to the issue regarding the latest policy U-turn, which we are now being prematurely forced into adopting as a nation.

The Minister of Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa is lately punting a much riskier model towards South African energy sovereignty with his recent announcement saying that the state is embarking on a process to expand the grid and about R400 billion will be invested into expanding the grid.

But the same policy U-turn and contradiction comes when the minister says that the expansion will help open up about 2600 MW of stranded energy resources currently sitting in mainly the Northern and Western Cape, etc.

Why must South Africa prioritise spending R400 billion in order to access 2600 MW of energy generation capacity in remote areas that will not even help to end load shedding even if those transmission lines are built?

What the minister conveniently fails to state categorically is that the state is under pressure from select lobby interests that are pressuring the Presidency under the Minister of Electricity to borrow money from the banks and other institutional lenders.

So the so-called investment money can be channelled into these projects of expanding the grid to access non-transmissible energy coming in from the stranded solar and wind farms.

The truth of the matter is that energy from those plants cannot be transmitted over a long distance due to its low voltage, variable frequency load and the down time non-availability of this energy on the grid network.

The Independent Power Producers (IPP) renewable farms only operate on a 1:3 ratio meaning that the energy is only generated at variable cycles based on a 30% peak generation capacity throughout the yearly cycle.

So what is the logic of investing R400 billion into building a transmission network, which will only be working for 30% of its capacity time.

That money will be wasted instead it should be diverted into firming up the generation capacity of coal-based resources and rebuilding and overhauling Eskom power plants.

If IPPs want a transmission network grid they should as expected rightfully so invest in their own independent transmission network without expecting the state to take more debt to further subsidise their IPPs power plants.

However, these strong lobby interests are pressuring the government not to focus on unlocking these dormant energy generation resources that South Africa already has in hand and doesn’t need billions to build.

The Just Energy Transition and Investment Plan aims to position South Africa as a renewables green energy only country at a very high cost.

But South Africa is taking a very risky gamble by building transmission capacity for energy that cannot be easily wheeled successfully onto the Eskom electricity transmission grid network.

Whereas the money should be prioritised on maintaining, fixing, refurbishing and retrofitting coal plants with HELE technology.

And later on start tapping into environmentally friendly technologies using the pebble bed methane gas from the coal field to produce clean gas for power generation.

The current plan by Ramokgopa will further entrench privatisation of the South African grid through establishing the now separated National Transmission company, which will open up the grid to new investors; who will in turn be making financial debt-based contributions by a way of putting in capital into the newly established National Transmission company.

What the minister does not admit is that this financial capital contribution will either be in the form of equity or debt-based capital contribution.

Mind you Eskom has a JSE-bond market structure, which has not even been considered in the process while Ramokgopa is busy breaking apart Eskom and privatising it through the back door.

Most critics of Ramokgopa say, “This is the Sputla we know: he says one thing and on the other decisively doing the opposite of what he says in the public arena”.

They know how as mayor of Tshwane how he operated. So they are not so surprised at his actions now. After all, by now he is a seasoned politician who knows how to survive politics. Ramokgopa is indeed playing to the tune as a paid piper.

But at the end of the day, the collateral damage of such decisions will damage South Africa's overall energy sovereignty.

It fails to serve the interests of the ordinary masses of South Africans who need the government to provide them with reliable, secure, cheap and affordable electricity.

Some might say I have been too harsh in my criticism of the minister. However, on many occasions, and in my previous columns, I have praised Ramokgopa’s work in the field of energy and sung his praises.

But today I am saying to Ramokgopa, he is making a mistake.

British politician George Galloway once said, “To err is human, to forgive divine”.

So too one can forgive Ramokgopa for these errors on the account of being human. But he must correct the error he is committing.

As energy minister he has a duty of care for today and tomorrow. And it is that tomorrow he needs to ensure South Africa is not one plunged into debt and darkness with no money left in the fiscal kitty to get out of.

“Light please,” Ramokgopa. That is my request.

Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

* The views in this column are independent of Business Report and Independent Media.