Ramokgopa bucks official line on Komati power station decommissioning

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa at the Ankerlig Open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT) facility located in the Western Cape. Photograph: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa at the Ankerlig Open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT) facility located in the Western Cape. Photograph: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 25, 2023


Minister of Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has gone against the government’s official position on the Just Energy Transition(JET) strategy and said that the decommissioning of the Komati power station was a mistake.

The coal-fired Komati power station in Mpumalanga - which had nine generating units with a total installed capacity of 1 000MW - was shut down in October 2022, after as reaching the end of its operational life after 61 years, to make way for renewable energy as part of the JET.

The power plant will be converted into a renewable generation site powered with 150MW of solar, 70MW of wind and 150MW of storage batteries through a concessional loan facility from the World Bank.

Speaking at a Dialogue hosted by Standard Bank Group Corporate Citizenship last night, a frustrated Ramokgopa posted videos of himself on Twitter saying that international investors had put pressure on South Africa to quickly transition to lower carbon technologies at the expense of energy security.

“If I had my way, we’d go and restart the units at Komati. We closed the power station which was the best performing power station at the time we closed it,” Ramokgopa said.

“And because someone gave us money and said decarbonise, we are getting 270MW of intermittent energy [and] we removed 1 000MW.”

The Standard Bank Dialogue engaged role players on finding collaborative solutions in moving from energy instability to energy certainty.

Representatives from the Energy Council of South Africa, the Banking Association South Africa and Business for South Africa also took part in the dialogue.

The Komati Repowering and Repurposing project is one of the largest coal-fired power plant decommissioning, repowering and repurposing projects globally, and aims to serve as a global reference on how to transition fossil-fuel assets.

The National Union of Mineworkers and other trade unions have previously slammed the unilateral decommissioning of Komati, saying that it perpetuated inequality, unemployment, and poverty, pointing out that the residents of Steve Tshwete and Emalahleni municipalities relied heavily on this power station for employment.

Though Eskom has said no employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure, Ramokgopa lamented the transition’s impact on the economic value-chain and skills in the Komati community.

Ramokgopa said the democratisation of this conversation should be part of the transition because the people of Komati only got to know later that the power station was being closed.

“We have displaced the jobs there and I am told the relationship is 1:3,” he said.

“So a set of the jobs that were created at the mines outside the value chain, the people who were fixing the yellow plant [machinery], the people who were working at the mines, the people who were selling by the roadside (and) those chaps who were working at the mines and the power station, so go to Komati it’s a ghost town, and then you say let’s have this conversation. Because we are a guinea pig, something is unfolding there.

“Of course, I am stating things that are going against what is an official position of government, but ... the truth must be told of an injustice that is unfolding in Komati in the name of the transition.

“I’m short of 1 000MW that should be reducing one stage of load shedding. Businesses should be thriving, but it’s no, we’ve got international obligations. I’m sorry, we’ve got an obligation to the South African people and the sovereign (nation).”