/ 19 April 2023

Plan to extend longevity of coal power stations is a slap in the face for Just Transition

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa2
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s plan to extend the life of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations is likely to get the go-ahead from President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday at a special cabinet meeting that has been called.

The meeting, which was only meant to happen in May, will take place on Wednesday afternoon to discuss load-shedding, which has crippled the economy.

An insider in the presidency said Ramokgopa called on Ramaphosa to revise his energy plan, which included cutting down carbon emissions as agreed with world leaders at Cop26 in Glasgow in 2021.

It also means Ramaphosa will go against the agreement reached with wealthy nations at Cop27 last November in Egypt, which pledged about $8.5 billion to help South Africa decommission some of the older plants and switch to cleaner electricity and reduce emissions that cause climate change.

“There comes a time when we have to put South Africa first, and consider whether shutting the coal plants was agreed upon through pressure or it was thought through,” the presidency insider said. “The truth is that the minister is right, it is impossible to fix our power struggles in two years, but the question is: can we afford the alienation of the other countries or not?” 

On Monday in Polokwane, Ramokgopa appeared before the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) to present his plan that will alleviate the pressure on Eskom’s systems, which has resulted in power cuts being ramped up.

Ramokgopa called for the support of the NWC to delay the decommission of the power stations that were to be switched off by 2025. 

Eskom planned to decommission and repurpose coal-fired power plants at Camden, Hendrina, and Grootvlei at an estimated cost of $2.6 billion. Ramokgopa has pleaded with the NWC to delay this.

Ramaphosa called the special cabinet meeting after the NWC approved Ramokgopa’s proposal.

The presidency insider said this would be a platform for Ramaphosa to give Ramokgopa some ministerial powers to operate in the utility.

“This will help the minister, who has been feeling like an errand boy, to have more powers to know what is happening in the utility and be part of the decision-makers,” said the insider.

“The minister has relied on the board to be told what is currently happening and cannot do anything about it because he is currently not a member of the board. He relies on Gordhan to have access. There’s no way to win with that arrangement.” 

The treasury, which briefed MPs on the Eskom Debt Relief Bill on Tuesday appears to have had problems with Ramokgopa’s plan to extend the life of the power stations. Finance Minister Enoch Godongwane said on Tuesday that Eskom must fund all of the expenditure on the power plants from the tariff raised from customers, reiterating that Eskom may not borrow money for the next three years and that the utility will not receive any other financial support from the government to fix its ailing power stations. 

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa