Importing power is not the answer

We cannot afford to let our panic to keep the lights on overshadow the need to scrutinise our energy future, especially when we’re importing power.

What South Africa needs is affordable, reliable and clean energy that drives investment, creates jobs, fosters critical skills development, helps us to curb climate change, and kicks our struggling economy into gear.

The last thing we should be doing is taking uncalculated risks on mega-projects that we can’t control or manage -— as Kusile and Medupi have horrifyingly revealed with crippling cost and delivery consequences.

A case in point is the Inga 3 hydro-electric power agreement that South Africa concluded with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2014: expensive and unreliable hydro power that will take at least 15 years to come online, not to mention the inevitable delays, cost overruns and corruption opportunities.

But the kicker is that this imported power will cost local consumers at least R400-million more a year compared with locally producing 2 500MW of renewable energy. Late last year Energy Minister Jeff Radebe made moves to double this amount, at a further unknown total cost, and without Cabinet or parliamentary approval.

South Africa is also required to invest 5% in the R200-billion project. That could be R10-billion or more, given the rand’s volatility, and costs of mega-projects usually escalate exponentially as time goes by. We’re also in the dark about the construction costs of the 1 600km power transmission line from southern DRC to the South African border (which we must fund), and its ongoing security and maintenance costs. There’s no guarantee of supply to South Africa, so we’ll remain at risk of cuts.

Importing very expensive Inga 3 energy won’t solve our energy crisis, nor will it do anything to fix our ailing economy. But generating 2 500MW to 5 000MW worth of renewable energy ourselves will go a long way: we should build on the success of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement programme.

There may be light at the end of our energy crisis tunnel, but it doesn’t come from the DRC. 

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