At last: CR throws the kitchen sink at load shedding

It took almost a month of intense disruptions due to loadshedding for President Cyril Ramaphosa to take charge of the electricity crisis that has deepened year after year, but on Monday, 25 July, he eventually announced drastic steps to end loadshedding, ensure the sustainability of Eskom and transform the electricity supply industry.

Without reverting to a state of disaster or emergency, Ramaphosa announced steps to:

  • Improve the performance of Eskom’s power stations;
  • Accelerate procurement of generation capacity;
  • Massively increase private sector investment in generation capacity;
  • Enable businesses and households to invest in rooftop solar and
  • Fundamentally reform the electricity supply industry and position it for future sustainability.

Ramaphosa announced that Eskom will over the next 12 months increase its maintenance budget to increase the reliability of its power stations. Government is cutting red tape to make it easier for Eskom to procure spares and equipment and the power utility is recruiting skilled staff – including former Eskom staff.

Over the next three months Eskom will procure additional generation capacity, including:

  • Additional capacity from existing independent power producers;
  • Additional energy from private generators such as mines, paper mills, shopping centres;
  • Excess capacity from neighbouring countries such as Botswana and Zambia; and
  • Interim solutions like mobile generators.

Eskom will also launch a programme to reduce peak demand.

Ramaphosa announced that a solution for Eskom’s R400 billion mountain of debt will be provided by Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana in his medium-term budget policy statement in October, and the climate funding secured earlier will be used to strengthen the electricity grid and repurpose old power stations. The Komati, Majuba and Lethabo power stations will be among the first to be converted to solar power and battery storage, amounting to 500 MW.

Read: SA wants to start accessing climate funds next year

To curb the scourge of theft, corruption and sabotage at Eskom the South African Police Service (SAPS) has established a special law enforcement team.

With all of this in place, there will be no further excuses for non-performance at Eskom, Ramaphosa said.

To get new generation capacity, Ramaphosa announced:

  • Government is working to ensure construction starts on all Bid Window 5 IPP projects and will address the impractical local procurement requirements;
  • Bid Window 6 will be doubled in size, from 2 600 MW to 5 200 MW;
  • A request for proposals for battery storage will be released in September and one for gas soon thereafter;
  • All further allocations provided for in the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will be expedited;
  • The IRP will be reviewed.

To encourage private investment in generation capacity Ramaphosa announced:

  • The licensing threshold for embedded generation that was lifted to 100 MW last year is being removed completely;
  • Special legislations will be tabled in parliament to remove obstacles that slow down the development of private generation for a limited period;
  • Until then, existing processes will be streamlined; and
  • A ‘one-stop shop’ will be established for all energy project applications.

A significant development is Ramaphosa’s announcement that Eskom will develop a feed-in tariff, at which to buy energy from households and businesses with rooftop solar.

This differs from the current net-metering which only allows owners of such solar installations to earn credit for the energy they supply to the grid to a point where their bills stand at zero. Feed-in tariffs on the other hand, allow the owners to earn money beyond that – Eskom may very well be paying them for electricity.

This announcement comes on the same day that Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis announced that his council will introduce feed-in tariffs for business and plans to expand it to households.

Ramaphosa also announced that a board will be appointed for Eskom’s newly-established transmission company and the generation company.

The finalisation of the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill will be expedited to establish a competitive electricity market.

Leaving little to chance, Ramaphosa established a national energy crisis committee, led by director-general in the presidency Phindile Baleni. Baleni is a former CEO of energy regulator Nersa, with deep knowledge of the electricity sector.

Also represented in the committee will be the departments of public enterprises, mineral resources and energy, forestry fisheries and the environment, national treasury and SAPS .

The relevant ministers will report to Ramaphosa directly.

In early reaction, trade union Solidarity welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcements.

Dr Dirk Hermann, chief executive of Solidarity, said the government’s move towards a more decentralised system for power generation is the only workable and sustainable solution to South Africa’s power crisis.

“As also outlined in Solidarity’s earlier plan, the encouragement and facilitation of small-scale power generation on a large scale is of crucial importance to stabilise our power grid,” says Hermann “Through deregulation and the removal of regulatory barriers, we free the private sector and communities up to present creative and resilient solutions to the crisis.”

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