SA proposes delaying shutting down coal-fired power plants beyond 2030, including Tutuka

Tutuka power station near Standerton. File photo: TJ Lemon/ Independent Newspapers

Tutuka power station near Standerton. File photo: TJ Lemon/ Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 7, 2024


THE GOVERNMENT has proposed delaying shutting down coal-fired power plants beyond 2030 where technically and commercially feasible, including Tutuka power station, in a bid to retain dispatchable electricity capacity amid the dwindling Energy Available Factor (EAF).

This is one of the proposed interventions contained in the draft document of the revised Integrated Resource Plan 2023 (IRP 2023) published at the end of last week.

Tutuka power station, with 3 654MW installed capacity, was scheduled to be decommissioned between 2030 and 2041 and be repurposed into a renewable energy power station after the US joined Britain, France, Germany and the EU to provide $8.5 billion (R159bn) in funding to accelerate South Africa’s shift away from coal and towards renewable energy sources.

The IRP 2023, an electricity generation plan that seeks to ensure security of electricity supply by balancing supply with demand, while taking into account the environment and total cost of supply, was published on Thursday for public comment.

The draft IRP 2023 is based on a scientific process that considers several scenarios and latest developments in the country’s electricity industry.

It considers two-time horizons, the first being the period up to 2030 focusing on addressing prevailing generation capacity constraints and system requirements to close the supply gap.

The plan said the deployment of “dispatchable” power generation options like gas-to-power must be accelerated, and where technically and commercially feasible, the planned shutdown of coal-fired plants should be delayed to retain capacity.

Horizon two covers the period from 2031 to 2050 and focuses on long-term electricity generation planning with pathways to achieve a resilient Net Zero electricity sector by 2050.

Between 2031 and 2050, the IRP 2023 said ways to ensure security of supply included different combinations of nuclear power, renewables, clean coal and gas.

According to the draft document, the analysis of the period between now and the year 2030 highlights a concerning electricity supply and demand deficit.

The draft document further states that while additional generation capacity initiatives are expected to alleviate unserved energy, they do not fully address the underlying system adequacy.

“Generation pathways and options studied indicate that firm decisions based on system requirements are crucial, however, these options are met with policy tensions which require balanced decision making,” it said.

“The final policy decisions must be taken on the basis of a long term decarbonisation trajectory while improving South Africa’s competitiveness, growing the economy through an industrial renaissance as outlined in the National Development Plan.”

The draft document was published to solicit public comments on the assumptions, input parameters, scenarios, and observations made, and these will be considered in drafting the final policy adjusted plan which will map out the future energy mix for the country.

Interested and affected persons and organisations were invited to submit their written comments on or before February 23.

Energy expert Professor Anton Eberhard said the draft IRP was an admission of failure around eliminating load shedding, saying it failed to fulfil its declared purpose of ensuring electricity security while minimizing environmental impacts and the cost of supply.

Eberhard also said the document admitted much “unserved energy” for at least the next four years, but then stood in stark contrast to the electricity plans of most of the rest of the world - for example the IRPs in the US, or Australia, or developments in Europe and elsewhere which see the optimal power mix as being solar, wind, gas and storage.

“It advocates delaying the closure of old coal power stations, working around minimum emission standards and provides dodgy conclusions on a least-cost power system without detailing its input assumptions,” Eberhard said.

“The IRP 2023 is a stitch-up, with predetermined outcomes in-line with what the energy minister has been advocating – wishful thinking around improvements in Eskom power station performance, delays in coal decommissioning, ‘clean’ coal, nuclear energy, and lots of gas.

“One of the disastrous consequences of this IRP is that there will be no acceleration in publicly procured renewable energy or enabling regulatory reforms, and South Africa will get nowhere close to the R1.2 trillion investment it needs in 60GW of new capacity and grid expansion.

“Stakeholders will expose its inadequacies. They will demand more techno-economic rigour, call for more transparency in cost assumptions and point to the costs to our economy of embarking on this Neanderthal plan.”