The decision by the Pretoria High Court to declare that the environmental approval for the 600MW Khanyisa coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga has expired must surely drive the final nail into the coffin of an electricity generation future based on coal. This comes shortly after the 630MW Thabametsi coal-fired plant in Limpopo failed to reach financial closure. Add in the fact that Eskom’s overall Energy Availability Factor (EAF – essentially the performance of the state-owned enterprise’s generation facilities) had dropped to an all-time record low of 64%, and South Africa has the makings of a perfect storm in its electricity supply.

With global finance houses withdrawing support for coal-based electricity generation, the time is opportune for South Africa to aggressively pursue alternative solutions to our electricity crisis. Minister Gwede Mantashe continues to be a handbrake on our economy and our electricity generation sector. On Thursday, President Ramaphosa again indicated his support for increasing the threshold for licencing of generation plants beyond the arbitrary 10MW limit Mantashe seems so determined to implement (and one which he has told parliament is informed by a “survey” of 10 000 respondents).

The DA believes that the following steps must be implemented as a matter of urgency, to save our economy and our country:

  1. Raise the licencing threshold for generation facilities to 50MW;
  2. Revise the Electricity Regulation Act to make it easier for Independent Power Producers to enter into the market;
  3. Split off the grid into a truly independent system market operator, which is not beholden to the Eskom board;
  4. Introduce complete transparency into the electricity tariff determination model, and all decisions affecting whether or not to licence a particular generator;
  5. Make it easier for municipalities to procure or generate their own electricity, instead of being totally reliant on Eskom; and
  6. Incentivize energy efficiency by offering tax rebates for individuals and businesses that seek to break their dependence on Eskom.

In the Western Cape, the DA has taken the lead in encouraging municipal independence from Eskom, by introducing the Municipal Energy Resilience Project. It is programmes like this that need to be rolled out across South Africa, in order to ensure a sustainable future in which the lights remain on and our economy can thrive.

The time has come for President Ramaphosa to take the hard-line: Mantashe must go. He is a tainted individual, with numerous allegations of interference and undue direct and indirect involvement in lucrative contracts (from both a personal and political perspective). But far, far worse is his handling of the electricity crisis. He has perpetuated a policy that promotes unaffordable coal, gas and nuclear solutions at the expense of our country’s future and made no tangible progress in opening the electricity generation sector to a broader market that is eager to invest.

The DA will continue to fight for a future in which electricity is available to all South Africans in an affordable and responsible manner. We need to seek a low-cost, environmentally sustainable solution to our electricity and economic crisis. Having Mantashe as the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy isn’t helping.

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Kevin Mileham MP

Kevin Mileham MP is the Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy.

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