/ 26 September 2023

Ramokgopa: Eskom must focus on transmission and expanding the national grid

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Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. (Leon Sadiki/Getty Images)

Electricity Minister Kgosientso Ramokgopa on Tuesday called for the swift expansion of Eskom’s transmission lines to avoid the risk of extending the country’s electricity crisis.

Referring to the government’s failure to expand Eskom’s generation capacity by 2008, even after a white paper on energy warned of a generation shortage to keep the economy growing, Ramokgopa said the country should avoid a repetition of past mistakes that have saddled it with load-shedding.

“What I want to emphasise is the speed with which we are going to make these decisions [regarding the financing of the grid] otherwise we are going to sit on the transmission side with the same problem we are sitting with on the generation side,” he told a media briefing.

“This is something that we stress upon on the structures that are sitting with the final decision of what will happen to Eskom.”

Last week, Ramokopa told an investment seminar at the JSE that the dangers of not expanding the grid “will become more apparent in about six to 12 months”.

He said: “Whatever efforts are placed on generation, equal effort must be put on transmission or we risk being in a spot where we were warned about the dangers of not fixing transmission.”

Eskom plans to build 14 000km of new transmission lines between 2022 and 2031, to enable more renewable energy to come onto the grid. Over the past 10 years, the utility has built only 4 300km of transmission lines.

On Tuesday Ramokgopa said discussions were underway with the private sector and the treasury to help the power utility find a way to fund the grid expansion, following Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s decision to stop Eskom from borrowing more money.

In his budget speech in February, Godongwana said the treasury would give Eskom R254 billion towards servicing its debt over a period of three years, on condition that it did not incur new debt.

On Tuesday, Ramokgopa said given Eskom’s constrained balance sheet, the government was looking to the private sector to help plug the finance gap.

“We have gathered opinions, counsel from private sector players [and] what we are doing as a team is putting together a report which we will present to the structures of government,” he said.

Ramokgopa expected to present his plan on expanding the transmission network to the cabinet by October.

During last week’s investment summit, Ramokgopa said the Energy Action Plan released last year emphasised the need to address generation capacity gaps, but lacked solutions on capacitating the grid to connect new power projects.

On Tuesday, the electricity minister said he had spoken to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe about releasing bid window seven, the next phase of the programme to procure renewable energy from solar and wind from independent producers. 

Ramokgopa said the government intended to launch bid window seven by the end of October.