Declare an ‘energy emergency’, says National Planning Commission

As the country continues to be gripped by rolling blackouts, the National Planning Commission (NPC) has called for the declaration of an “energy emergency”.

In a statement, the commission said the goals of the National Development Plan, which it is charged with advancing, “cannot be achieved without energy security”. 

“South Africa has suffered load-shedding since 2008 which has, in turn, constrained many developmental policies and strategies,” it added.

Last week, the country was plunged into stage six load-shedding after Eskom workers went on an unprotected strike, which prevented 90% of the utility’s staff from attending to their work duties at one power station. Their return to work was delayed by tense wage negotiations, which were finally settled on Tuesday.

Though the wage deal ought to set Eskom on the path to recovery, the utility said in a statement that the system will still take some time to recover. “As a result of the strike, maintenance work has had to be postponed and this backlog will take time to clear.”

On Wednesday, the NPC said bringing on new generation capacity is a matter of urgency.   

“Evidence suggests it is possible to do this within 24 months if 10 000 MW of new generation capacity is rapidly constructed and commissioned as well as 5000 MW of storage capacity. Solar and wind power projects can be built rapidly within two to three years,” it said.

Ending load-shedding, it added, “needs to become a unifying national goal for the whole country and all stakeholders”. 

Declaring an energy emergency would make it possible to override some of the red tape that is preventing the acceleration of delivery of new generation capacity, said the NPC.

The commission said it is of the view that the 100MW ceiling on distributed generation projects should be removed, any National Energy Regulator of South Africa registration process that delays projects should be scrapped, environmental and water use approvals must be streamlined and there must be a temporary exemption from local content requirements for building new generation.

The NPC’s statement comes after the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) raised its concern about the energy crisis, urging the government to speed up energy sector reforms “to alleviate the plight of South Africans”.

“The NEC, with grave concern, deliberated on the energy security crisis facing our country and the devastating impact of load-shedding on households, communities and businesses and on national prospects for economic growth,” the statement said.

The NEC emphasised the need for immediate and longer-term interventions to solve the country’s energy crisis and also urged that higher stages of load-shedding, which the country has recently been saddled with, be avoided.

“Whilst recognising the need to protect the stability of the national electricity grid through load-shedding measures, the NEC called for this to be confined to lower stages and to be phased out in the medium to long term,” said the statement.

The NEC called on Eskom to consider increasing maintenance to improve the availability of the existing power supply and to acquire the appropriate skills to do so. 

Moreover, the government and Eskom should facilitate private investment in new generation capacity, speed up the repurposing of power stations for alternative energy, accelerate the procurement of battery storage, empower municipalities to procure additional electricity and encourage business and households to invest in renewables.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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