President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country needed an energy mix that included coal, nuclear, solar, wind and biogas if it was to transition to a cleaner form of energy.
Ramaphosa was addressing the KwaZulu-Natal ANC’s Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) yesterday amid threats of legal action and protests as load shedding continues.
On Sunday, Eskom announced that it was contemplating implementing Stage 2 or 3 load shedding on a near-permanent basis for the next two to three years.
Ramaphosa said 80% of the country’s energy comes from coal-fired power stations and this could not be ignored.
“I have made it clear that in this transition there is no way that South Africa can shut down coal-fired power stations – we can’t shut down Medupi and Kusile.”
Ramaphosa admitted that load shedding had a dire effect on the economy.
“Workers and the poor are the most affected. Companies are reluctant to invest and once investment dries up, productivity is dampened and jobs cannot be created on an economic scale.
“It also affects health care. Last week matriculants told us that load shedding had disrupted their education, and there are serious safety and security concerns.”
He said Eskom was in a crisis as a result of the cumulative impact of historical under-investment in maintenance and assets, and this had led to serial breakdowns.
“In 1998, Eskom called for more power stations and the government told them that these would be built by the private sector, but this did not happen.
“Only in 2008, when we finally woke up, did we decide to build Kusile and Medupi. Eskom used to be the very best in the world and now it has descended to levels not worth talking about.”
Ramaphosa said droves of engineers left Eskom between 1998 and 2008, and when work started on the new power stations “there was no real internal capacity”.
“We tried to replicate Majuba when building our new power stations, and that resulted in design flaws. We also went through a decade of state capture, criminality and mismanagement.
“We have spent double the original amount budgeted for Medupi (R62 billion) and Kusile (R72bn), and some of the units in these power stations are not complete. We need to improve the performance of existing power stations and add new capacity, including renewable energy.”
He said that for years, maintenance had been neglected and while this meant a continuous supply of electricity, it had led to the current crisis.
“For many years, critical maintenance was deferred, and our power stations were run too hard in order to keep the lights on. As a country we are now paying the price for these miscalculations.
“While we all desperately want to, we cannot end load shedding overnight.”
Ramaphosa said that in July last year he had announced a national Energy Action Plan to improve the performance of Eskom’s power stations and to add new generation capacity as quickly as possible.
“This plan was the result of extensive consultation and was endorsed by energy experts as the most realistic path towards ending load shedding.
“As we know only too well from the experience of the past few weeks, many of the measures in the plan will not be felt in the immediate term.”
Earlier, ANC provincial chairperson Siboniso Duma said that the energy crisis had been the subject of the PEC discussion on Sunday, and they agreed with Ramaphosa’s decision to ask the Eskom board to rethink the Nersa-approved 18.65% electricity tariff increase.