Energy crisis looms as DA’s stance against nuclear energy threatens stability and economy

The DA's actions will lead to a lack of affordable and reliable electricity for South Africans, leaving the population with a concerning future for their energy needs, writes Bayethe Msimang.

The DA's actions will lead to a lack of affordable and reliable electricity for South Africans, leaving the population with a concerning future for their energy needs, writes Bayethe Msimang.

Published Jul 11, 2024


By Bayethe Msimang

As South Africa grapples with its chronic energy shortages, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has positioned itself firmly against nuclear energy, advocating for importing solar panels from the United States instead.

This preference, rooted in the DA's pro-American stance, has sparked significant conflict within the Ministry of Energy.

Deputy Minister Samantha Graham has been accused of actively undermining nuclear energy projects, aligning with the DA's renewable energy agenda.

The DA was critical of President Ramaphosa's introduction of an electricity minister last year, and the Democratic Alliance now shares power in this new department. The party's Samantha Graham-Maré stated her intention to harness innovation in the sector as the newly minted deputy minister of electricity and energy, which many interpret as a move toward an energy mix relying more on renewables than coal.

In March this year, media reported that the DA has consistently attempted to block plans for nuclear power stations, favouring renewable solutions that many argue do not meet South Africa's extensive energy needs. This strife will likely intensify with accusations that Graham is deliberately sabotaging nuclear initiatives.

Energy Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, a staunch advocate for an energy mix that includes green and nuclear energy, now faces opposition from within his department. An 'energy mix' refers to the combination of different energy sources, such as coal, nuclear, and renewables, used to meet a country's energy needs. Ramokgopa remains confident that the position to deliver on the projects of the last administration for procuring nuclear would be defended in the courts.

This week, the DA announced their challenge to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa's (NERSA) decision to approve the procurement of 2500MW of new nuclear power on the grounds of procedural irregularity and irrationality. NERSA is a regulatory authority that oversees the energy sector in South Africa, including the approval of new energy projects. Founding and supplementary affidavits have been tabled before the Gauteng Division of the High Court, citing multiple high-level officials, including Minister Ramokgopa, as respondents. Responses are due by July 26, with the matter set for hearing on October 15 and 16.

Cape Town's DA-led solar panel projects have increased electricity costs, primarily benefiting American companies. This strategy has raised significant concerns about the DA's approach and its potential negative impact on South Africa's economy and energy stability. The Sunday Times recently reported that the R200bn Karpowership energy deal is increasingly unlikely, further exacerbating these concerns.

The new government of national unity (GNU) has doubled down on its nuclear plan and aims to secure approval from the Treasury for a 2,500MW power plant by next month. This action is Ramakgopa's plan to fight Energy Poverty in the Country, including its Townships and Rural Communities.

Minister Ramokgopa has championed the 2500MW nuclear energy procurement program, currently contested in court, adding another layer of complexity. This legal battle could delay or derail these nuclear projects, crucial to the energy mix. Engineering News noted that the separation of the energy portfolio and Ramokgopa's appointment were initially praised amid rising complexities in the energy transition. However, the internal conflict with Graham now poses a significant threat to the progress made .

Minister Ramokgopa's efforts to secure 2500MW of nuclear energy are part of a broader strategy to address South Africa's chronic energy shortages. Nuclear energy is a stable, clean, and efficient power source that meets the country's growing energy demands. Koeberg ranks amongst the safest of the world's top-ranked PWRs of its vintage and is the most reliable Eskom power station. The National Occupational Safety Association (NOSA) has awarded Koeberg the NOSCAR status over 14 times. The irony is that the DA-led province enjoys the benefits of this nuclear power plant and yet does not want other provinces to benefit from it and end energy poverty in the ANC-led provinces such as the Eastern Cape.

Graham's actions, perceived as deliberate attempts to undermine nuclear projects, reflect a broader DA strategy that prioritizes renewable energy imports over domestic nuclear energy development. This stance has resulted in higher electricity costs in areas like Cape Town, where DA-led solar panel projects have primarily benefited foreign companies. This approach has raised serious concerns about the sustainability and economic impact of the DA's energy policies on South Africa.

The DA's historical pressure on the Ministry of Energy to adopt less reliable renewable energy sources adds further complexity. This clandestine approach to undermining nuclear energy initiatives from within the ministry could have severe implications for South Africa's energy security. The DA's demands for Minister Ramokgopa to immediately review the ministerial determination to procure new nuclear power and take appropriate steps to rectify the non-compliance, failing which their legal challenge on procedural and rationality grounds will proceed, only heighten these worries.

In conclusion, the appointment of Samantha Graham as Deputy Minister of Energy represents a significant risk to South Africa's energy future. Her actions, driven by the DA's pro-American stance threaten to derail critical nuclear projects from within the ministry.

The ongoing legal challenges, the increased cost of solar initiatives, and the potential insider trading scandals underscore the urgency for a clear and unified energy policy.

Under Graham's influence, it is becoming increasingly clear that the DA's actions will lead to a lack of affordable and reliable electricity for South Africans, leaving the population with a concerning future for their energy needs.

* Bayethe Msimang is an independent writer and analyst.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.