/ 17 February 2023

Court cases ‘will not stop energy plan’

Observing National Energy Month
Wind energy is cost effective and pollution intolerant. One Megawatt of wind energy equates to 2 600 fewer tonnes of carbon emissions, in comparison with coal-fired energy generation. (Photo: Rodger Bosch/AFP)

Pending court cases against Eskom and the newly enforced energy state of disaster will not affect the country’s energy plan, said Rudi Dicks, head of project management in the Presidency.

“The national state of emergency over the power crisis is an opportunity and will be used aggressively, regardless of urgent court applications aimed at overturning it,” Dicks said.

Dicks was responding to questions on the first National Energy Crisis Committee (Necom) weekly feedback session on the progress of the energy action plan which was announced in July last year.

“The pending court cases will not affect the energy plan because the country is in a crisis anyway. We need to address the energy crisis,” he said.

Dicks added that the energy action plan was slowly taking shape, with some significant milestones reached recently, including obtaining a licence for Eskom’s new transmission company. The company will allow for the unbundling of the utility and pave the way for a competitive energy generation sector where generators can sell to the grid.

This comes after several court cases have been launched against Eskom and the energy state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week during his State of Nation address.

Eskom is also being taken to court by several political parties and unions over the 18.65% tariff hike granted by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa.

Court cases

After the state of disaster was declared, civil action group Outa joined other groups in launching a court challenge against it. In papers filed on Thursday, 16 February, Outa approached the Pretoria high court to have the declaration overturned.

Ramaphosa announced during his State of the Nation Address a week ago that, after consultation with legal experts, the national power crisis constituted and met the requirements for a state of disaster to be declared.

Under the state of disaster, the government would be able to cut through red tape and take swift action in dealing with load-shedding and the wider energy shortfall, and could quickly exempt critical infrastructure and services from rolling blackouts.

According to Outa, however, the decision to declare the disaster was irrational, arbitrary and unlawful, because the national government already has the requisite power to deal with the crisis — it simply hasn’t done so.

Dicks added that the utility would continue to implement its plans: “Wouldn’t it be wilful if we had to stop just because certain parties want to take us to court?” he asked.

Solving the crisis

Acting Necom spokesperson Michael Currin said the state of disaster authorised the utility to take any intervention it deemed appropriate to resolve the power crisis.

He added that this included fast-tracking the procurement processes and requests for proposals.

Dicks announced that Energy and Minerals Minister Gwede Mantashe had exempted the utility from procurement regulations that limited its capacity to acquire services.

Mantashe gave Eskom authority to procure around 800MW of emergency power. 

“This will be the first energy procurement Eskom has done in more than a decade since it began the construction of Medupi and Kusile. Due to Eskom’s over-borrowed financial position, subsequent energy generation projects have been financed and built by the private sector with the power sold on to Eskom.

“This enables the utility to order more urgent parts in the open market to improve the performance of our power stations without being subjected to the public finance management act,” Dicks said.

Not all is gold

Thomas Conradie, acting head of generation, said Eskom’s hope to increase its

energy availability (EAF) target of 60% at the end of March might be impossible. 

“The EAF is at 53.8% and we anticipate, when we return some units, it will increase, although other units must be taken out for maintenance. Sixty percent by the end of March will be very difficult.”

The EAF is the percentage of the plant that is working and available to dispatch electricity.