/ 16 November 2022

SA won’t suffer energy collapse but cannot abandon coal: Mantashe

Gwede Mantashe Ed 378903
Gwede Mantashe, the minerals resources and energy minister.

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe on Wednesday said there was no risk of South Africa experiencing a complete collapse of energy supply but cautioned that a swift transition away from coal-based generation would lead to calamity. 

Mantashe was responding to questions in the National Assembly from Freedom Front Plus MP Wynand Boshoff and Good Party member Brett Heron, among others.

Boshoff asked whether the department of energy, or that of public enterprises, had a crisis plan to contend with “a perfect storm” of 75% or more of power utility Eskom’s generating capacity becoming unavailable. Lived experience had taught South Africans that this was likely to transpire at some point, he added.

Mantashe replied that it was not quite fair to confront him with questions on Eskom’s operations when the entity fell under the department of public enterprises. But it was his view, he added, that this would not readily come to pass.

“My understanding is that Eskom is having 45 000 megawatts connected but at best gives us 26 000 MW and that when there is a gap of 22 000 MW that are not decommissioned, that are not giving us energy,” he said.

“Therefore, with that capacity connected I think there can be no collapse of energy generation but we should pay attention and be servicing the units that are available in Eskom, connected, having capacity to give us energy, they must give us energy.”

He went on to say that if the power utility were to bow to pressure to do “what is appearing nice”, alluding here to a swift move away from coal, “then we are going to be in darkness”.

“Germany is dismantling a wind farm to expand operations of a coal mine, as we sit here today. I can tell you that coal miners in the US are putting pressure on President [Joe] Biden to invest more in coal production. Here we say we must leave coal,” Mantashe said.

“I am one of the people who say we can have a transition but that coal is not just about numbers, it is about human beings.”

A reckless insistence on rapidly abandoning coal as a form of generation would spell unemployment and darkness for many, he added.

Heron asked what security measures were being put in place to counter the threat organised crime posed to energy generation, not only that of Eskom but of new renewable plants.

He cited the fate of the solar power plant at Hazelmere, north of Durban, which cost R25 million to construct, and only lasted four years after it was targeted by looters.

Mantashe responded that he was not the minister of safety and security, and proceeded to caution that more renewable capacity was not a silver bullet to stop load-shedding, which on Wednesday afternoon was escalated to level 3.

“The reality of the matter is that when you talk about renewables, any many people say accelerate renewables to rectify the weakness, I agree with them, but what I always explain is that if you give a bid window 5 or a you give a bid window 6 next week, you are not going to have no load-shedding on Saturday,” the minister said.

It was a misleading assumption, he stressed, as these plants would take between one to two years to add to capacity to the grid.

Mantashe also told MPs that the government was building a strategic stock of refined petroleum products, a process which should be completed within 20 months. The country currently has 4.3 million barrels of crude oil in reserve.

“Since the refining capacity has reduced, it makes sense to develop a strategic stock of refined products.”