FIFI PETERS: The National Planning Commission, NPC, last week reacted to the electricity crisis saying that there have to be urgent steps taken to address this issue. Tinus de Jager spoke to the NPC for more.
TINUS DE JAGER: The commission was specifically talking about cutting through red tape and holdups, and called for 10 000 megawatts of energy from renewable sources in the next two years. They also want 5 000 megawatts stored in batteries in the same timeframe. Last week independent power producers said these goals are achievable. They just need the go-ahead.
Joanne Yawitch is a commissioner at the NPC. Good evening Joanne, and welcome. Do we really need another plan? Why can’t we just implement the plans that we have?
JOANNE YAWITCH: I don’t think that what we are putting in place is so much a new plan as saying that there are already things that are in process that, if they were speeded up, if they were streamlined, [and] if it was made easier to get them implemented, those things would have a significant impact in alleviating the load shedding crisis that we are currently facing.
That is absolutely critical as you will be aware because of the devastating impact that load shedding has on the economy and, in the context of the National Development Plan, on all of our goals in terms of equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth.
TINUS DE JAGER: You’ve spoken about 10 000 megawatts from the sun and from wind. Then you’ve spoken about 5 000 megawatts being stored in batteries. What is holding up the process to get to that?
JOANNE YAWITCH: At the moment there are different ways that renewable capacity is brought onto the grid. The first is the independent power producer process, and that has been rolled out over a number of years. It has been rolled out fairly slowly. Currently the successful bidders are busy negotiating with government, and there are a series of blockages in the way. [As] part of them, we have no control over the price of renewables [which] has gone up a bit since that bid started, and those things need to be addressed – the issues around localisation need to be addressed.
So we are suggesting that you cut through the blockages on that and try to get those developers to start building their plants as soon as possible. In addition, you’ve got this hundred-megawatt self-generation programme that is in place, and we are suggesting that where Eskom’s grid can stand it, in actual fact you should be able to lift that hundred megawatt limit in order to allow some bigger plants to link into the grid.
Those are private-sector developments, and there’s already quite a big pipeline of those. Those could get off the ground also within this two-year period. Battery storage would then require a procurement process to go up to five gigawatts of it.
TINUS DE JAGER: You’ve called this an ‘emergency plan’ or ‘emergency steps’ if I hear you correctly now. What needs to happen to take these emergency steps now? It’s been a week. Have you made any progress?
JOANNE YAWITCH: What we proposed was the declaration of an energy emergency. So what we want is a recognition that we are in an energy-supply crisis in the country, and that it requires unusual steps to be taken in order to be able to fast-track the creation of new capacity.
We are an advisory body to government, so it is something that we are asking government to find the way to do. If you saw the president’s letter on Monday morning, he said that there would be announcements soon in relation to a set of steps and measures that are going to be taken in order to be able to cut through some of the red tape and make these processes work faster.
So I think that we certainly hope, as the NPC, that our request has been heard and will feed in to the processes that government is undergoing in order to be able to address red tape. Already in the president’s office you have our Operation Vulindlela, which is an initiative to try and cut red tape.
Certainly in relation to this hundred-megawatt scheme, I know that it has done a lot of work in order to simplify the bureaucratic processes and the red-tape requirements that were preventing some of those schemes from getting off the ground. And they are going ahead at the moment.
So we are adding our support to, I think, a direction that government was wanting to go in, but we say we’ve got to get this done really fast. And we’ve got to take all of the barriers out of the way of making new capacity come onto the grid really rapidly.
TINUS DE JAGER: However, there still seems to be a little bit of reluctance to turn to renewable energy sources. If you look at what the minister of mineral and energy affairs says, he’s worried about job losses if we go that route – is this new plan or these new steps not stepping on toes?
JOANNE YAWITCH: I think that Minister [Gwede] Mantashe is very correct to be concerned about the potential impact on the workers and communities who depend on the coal value chain for their existence if we were to completely phase out coal and phase in renewables over a short period of time. This is something that needs to be managed carefully. We need to take cognisance of the fact that there are real risks for workers, and the risks go both ways. So it’s workers in the coal value chain, but it is also workers elsewhere in the economy, where companies are closing down, who are losing their jobs as a result of not having electricity.
So we believe that you can manage both – that you can put in the plans that do support a just transition for the coal workers and coal communities, but at the same time the fastest way to bring capacity onto the grid is the renewables build. And we believe by doing that you are going to save the jobs of other workers in the economy.
So I don’t see this as a kind of win-lose equation. I think we’ve got to, as a country, work in such a way that we turn it into a win-win opportunity for all.
So I think we have little option but to go ahead. Renewables are the cheapest source of energy at the moment; they are the source that can be built the fastest. We are using them to supplement the existing base-load capacity and to add to it. And if you look at the figures that Eskom puts out on a daily basis around the use of the grid and the use of capacity, you’ll see that over the last few weeks there’s been at least 2 000 megawatts of wind that has been critical in ensuring that we don’t go to even deeper stages of load shedding.
I think we’ve got to take a pragmatic view of this. I think that we’ve got to support government in the direction it has been moving in, and I think that we need to do everything we can to get that bill to happen as fast as possible.
TINUS DE JAGER: You’re talking about cutting through the red tape to get this process rolling really quickly. Doesn’t that create different problems? The red tape is there for a reason.
JOANNE YAWITCH: Some of the red tape is there for a reason, but I think that processes are often much slower than they could be. Decision-making often takes much longer than is necessary. I’m quite certain that if you got different government departments working more closely together and better aligned, you’d get better decisions faster.
For example, one of the proposals we make is that you streamline water and environmental approvals to take advantage of the renewable energy development zone framework that allows for fast tracking of approvals. So in other words, if you build, there’s been a lot of work done to say that there are particular zones in the country, corridors where it would be the right place to build renewables. And so, if you encourage people to build in those zones, then there’s already been a pre-screening, and so you can streamline that process.
Similarly, the Eskom lease scheme that it is trying to put out at the moment, where it is leasing out its land – where there is grid connection to private providers who are willing to build these hundred-megawatt plants, these areas are right next to power stations and industrial facilities that aren’t particularly sensitive. They do need to do an EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment], but let’s speed up that process so that the people who are prepared to invest in that capacity can get going sooner than would’ve otherwise been the case.
So I think that speeding up is something that is entirely feasible and possible to do.
TINUS DE JAGER: Thank you, Joanne. Joanne is a commissioner at the National Planning Commission.