Manuel: Energy crisis needs to be taken more seriously

South Africans have been lulled into a false sense of security that there is sufficient energy, but that it is just going to cost more, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel said in Pretoria on Tuesday.

After a national stakeholder advisory council meeting with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on electricity, Manuel said it was accepted that energy was the ”life-blood” of any economy. To address the crisis behavioural changes were needed.

”There will have to be some kind of price adjustment. It’s inevitable. We have all been lulled into a false sense of security. We think that there is sufficient energy. Life is not actually as easy as it seems.”

Manuel said South Africans needed to look beyond Eskom’s proposed 35% a year price hike over the next three years, and instead look 20 years into the future.

”We must look at the energy choices going forward … to the horizon.”

Manuel said the council, including labour, business and civil society, agreed that the energy crisis needed to be taken more seriously. He said it would meet more regularly, possibly every three months.

Manuel said it was ”pre-emptive” to discuss Eskom’s proposed price hike before the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) had decided whether to approve it or not.

”Cabinet will have to wait for a Nersa determination.”

He said every South African could help mitigate the continuing crisis by reducing demand and exploring solar energy as a means of generating electricity.

”It’s an all-in effort,” he said.

For government’s part, Manuel said R60-billion had been allocated to help the power utility weather the storm, with an additional guarantee of R125-billion on the backburner.

Speaking on behalf of labour, Tyotyo James from the Congress of South African Trade Unions said there had been a ”collective willingness” by all members of the council to address the problem.

”The electricity crisis in this country is no individual’s problem.”

James indicated that adjusting behaviour regarding electricity use was vital and no time should be wasted.

”We must not plunge this country in a massive blackout,” he said.

Raymond Parsons from the business sector said the approach needed to be spurred by ”truly a team effort”.

”We need to be able to generate more options [than coal producing electricity], to think outside the box. From the business point of view it is a group effort.”

According to a statement issued by the Presidency later, the advisory council, supported by the National Emergency Response Team, had considered numerous proposals.

Key points included a policy framework on private-sector participation as soon as possible; the need to ensure system security and reliability, thereby avoiding power cuts; and developing a contingency plan for the high demand expected during the World Cup in June 2010.

”We call on all South Africans to reduce electricity usage by at least 10%,” the Presidency said.

”This will immediately increase our reserve margins to levels above 13%, so let us switch off air conditioners, geysers, heaters and lights unless we absolutely need them.”

Enabling economic growth and job creation were also discussed.

”The council suggested that we need to investigate the socio-economic impact of electricity costs and urgently introduce incentives for voluntary rationing where necessary,” the Presidency said.

The speed of the roll-out of the national solar water heating programme was highlighted. Manuel said this included a commitment to install at least one million solar-heating cylinders in houses.

Business, civil society, labour and minority groups said they would all be making submissions to Nersa at next year’s public hearings on the power price hike. — Sapa

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