Climate Change

Dear Mr President, tell Energy Minister Mantashe to get with the programme – for the sake of our youth

By Kholwani Simelane

27 Jun 2022
original article here 

Kholwani Simelane is Advocacy Officer at The Green Connection.

One of my biggest concerns as a young person in South Africa is that we may be running out of time to address the climate crisis and curb global heating. Are we not squandering our chance for a just transition to renewable energy?

As South Africans acknowledge Youth Month – spearheaded by remembering the sobering events of 16 June 1976 – I am compelled to remind our president and government about the legacy they are leaving the youth, many of whom are currently unemployed: the climate crisis.

Earlier this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa turned the spotlight directly on to South Africa’s energy challenges by pointing out that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has opened Bid Window Six of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement programme with the aim of procuring up to 2.6GW of solar and wind power, with the first three risk mitigation projects having already signed their power purchase agreements.

These projects represent some of the largest hybrid solar and battery storage projects in the world and they are happening in South Africa. He further went on to mention that the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill, which provides for the establishment of a separate transmission company and the competitive market for electricity, has been published for public comment and is hoped to be tabled in Parliament in the coming months.

One of my biggest concerns as a young person in South Africa is that we may be running out of time to address the climate crises and curb global heating. Are we not squandering our chance for a just transition to renewable energy?

Mr President, how certain are you that the Kusile Power Station will bring change to our struggle against power cuts? The project is more than 14 years late and is still not complete.

The President must set time frames and put dates in place for energy projects (particularly renewables) to be up and running so that the country can move forward, past the dark times resulting from the power cuts.

We welcome his excitement for energy security in our country, but disagree that it should comprise a mix that still includes fossil fuels and nuclear.

On the other hand, opening the path for renewable energy such as solar and wind is a step in the right direction. Of course, we know this would require a lot of money and resources, and we realise that the private sector may not be willing or able, at this stage, to invest in renewable energy to supply historically disadvantaged and rural communities.

But by cutting the red tape, this may change.

Has it always been the President’s master plan to privatise the country’s electricity as a solution to most of Eskom’s shenanigans and expect the people to clean up after their successful failure?

Eskom says that it is on course to complete the R161-billion Kusile Power Station by 2024 and that the plant is expected to contribute 4,800MW to the national grid on completion. But will that actually happen?

And if it does, is it really something we can celebrate when we consider that it will continue to have detrimental effects on human health, climate change and the environment?

Which brings me to my next point – the idea of pushing households towards installing their own solar photovoltaic systems is a brilliant concept – however, it is not feasible currently.

We need better solutions for low-income households, especially considering that many end up living in the dark because they cannot afford the high electricity bills owed to municipalities, which in turn fail to pay electricity supply contractors.

A possible solution to this problem could be that municipalities rent each household’s roof and install solar panels and, in that way, local authorities create power generation while putting cash into people’s pockets.

When it comes to power stations and transformers, national government must force municipalities to properly monitor and maintain all facilities regularly to ensure that each and every community has sufficient electricity. In many cases, there is not enough electricity available for the communities that are worst affected by load shedding.

The population census could be useful here to help municipalities better understand exactly how many people they serve to ensure both a sufficient supply and to promote the efficient use of electricity in those communities.

On the other hand, oil and gas companies are still proceeding with their offshore projects, starting exploration that may only start producing in 10 years’ time.

I do not believe that this is the investment young people need or want.

Despite the ongoing applications for exploration rights, communities continue to be concerned about the potential negative effects of fossil fuel exploration on their livelihoods and cultural practices (for example, should a major oil spill occur as a result of an offshore well blow-out).

Environmental impact assessments for these exploration rights are often conducted with little or no participation from affected communities – an infringement of their rights, according to the National Environment Management Act, which clearly states that environmental management must place people and their needs at the forefront of its concerns.

Which brings me to the point that if the livelihoods of the people are destroyed, how will they survive? We need our oceans to be healthy and sustainable sources of livelihoods.

There is no easy solution to load shedding.

However, a phone call to Minister Gwede Mantashe to tell him to get with the programme or step out of the way may be a good place to start, Mr President. DM

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