Cape Town - Every nation has a right to a reliable, stable and secure source of energy.
Unfortunately, this is not something that Africa’s most industrialised economy enjoys.
While the world is switching to low-carbon fuel sources and renewables to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change, a just transition requires equal access to reliable electricity.
That’s a factor that green activists don’t consider when they call for an immediate halt to fossil-fuel generation.
The fact that the switch to cleaner fuels must be part of a just transition was made abundantly clear by the more than 1 300 South Africans, myself included, who attended one of the six public participation meetings to discuss Karpowership SA’s projects.
These events were held in person across the country, as well as online, and most of the public support I witnessed came from business owners and parents expressing the need for more reliable electricity.
For South Africa to achieve universal access to efficient and affordable power by 2030, we need to bring online thousands of megawatts of base load power. And we need to do it quickly.
South Africa, one of the continent’s richest nations, is being brought to its knees due to insufficient access to energy.
The country’s ageing power stations are at breaking point as heavily indebted state-run utility Eskom struggles to make ends meet.
Last year’s energy crisis, the worst in recent memory, is expected to get worse in 2023. Eskom admitted at the end of November that it had run out of cash and could not buy the diesel it needs to operate the open cycle gas turbines (OCGT) at its Gourikwa and Ankerlig power stations until April 2023.
These OGCT facilities were only intended to be used during peak demand periods and emergency situations to supply electricity to South Africa’s grid when it couldn’t source power from the usual channels.
These back-up systems being out of action until April significantly increases South Africa’s risk of blackouts and the devastating impact that load shedding continues to have on its people.
South Africa is one of the world’s most coal-dependent nations, accounting for more than 80% of its power generation.
Not only is its energy production highly polluting, but it’s also highly unreliable. While leaders of rich nations speak at high-profile conferences, such as COP27 of the need to decarbonise existing energy systems, South Africans are quite literally sitting in the dark. The nation has just experienced its most severe bout of load shedding on record, and people are calling for change.
People are yearning for projects that will bring jobs, economic viability, and support to their communities. We heard hundreds of them arguing that the proposed Karpowership SA projects would help facilitate this change.
Unlike the narrative that’s being pushed through some media outlets, the people are fully supportive of projects that will bring back life to their communities. Karpowership’s public participation engagements were clear evidence of this.
The company took great pains to ensure that all stakeholders – including the public, NGOs, community leaders and the media – were actively engaged with the proposed projects.
In Saldanha, where I was also part of a public event, more than 300 people attended to express their frustration at the damage that load shedding causes, and voiced their support for the projects.
Among the attendees was Sammy Classen, the spokesperson for the West Coast Black Business Alliance, who highlighted the community’s frustration with the approach by environmental groups to the energy crisis.
‘’Poverty, inequality, and unemployment are what we need to solve first. Environmentalists’ needs can’t always be above our needs. There must be balance,’’ Classen said.
“The community wants Karpowership’s solution. We need the jobs, and we want to end load shedding.”
Neo Moorkroft is head of environmental research at Black Business Alliance