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ENERGY CRISIS

Presidency renews call for all to get behind Ramaphosa’s electricity plans

Presidency renews call for all to get behind Ramaphosa’s electricity plans
(Photo: iStock | Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africans need to stand behind the government’s plans to end the electricity crisis, even if they have reservations about Cyril Ramaphosa’s approach, his spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said on Sunday.

In his attempts to address South Africa’s worsening electricity crisis that threatens the country’s economic and social stability, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced several measures in his recent State of the Nation Address (Sona).

These include the creation of a ministry of electricity within the Presidency and the declaration of a National State of Disaster.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Four key takeaways from Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address

“We must … emphasise that this is not the time for finger-pointing or politically motivated court actions or ‘lawfare’,” Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson to the President, said at a media briefing on Sunday, 12 February.

“This is the time to look past our ideological and political differences… [It is the] time to work together in the interest of our nation, in the interests of growing the economy and sustaining livelihoods.”

He said senior DA leaders such as Western Cape Premier Alan Winde and Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis were among those who had advocated for the declaration of a National State of Disaster ahead of the Sona on Thursday, 9 February.

“The President does expect that even those who have reservations about the approach that he has taken [will] … join in and put shoulder to wheel because, ultimately, we’re all working towards the same goal.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: “ ‘Dangerous and mad’ — Not everyone’s sold on Ramaphosa’s electricity minister and another State of Disaster

Addressing concerns around potential corruption under the State of Disaster, Magwenya said Ramaphosa had announced measures to deal with any form of abuse.

“Over and above the Auditor-General keeping a close eye on various processes as they roll out, the President expects law enforcement agencies to be vigilant and to act with speed in dealing with those who will seek to take advantage of the situation,” he said.

Support for Eskom

There were two key approaches to addressing the electricity crisis: improving power plant performance at Eskom; and getting enough new megawatts on to the power grid as quickly as possible, said Rudi Dicks, head of the Project Management Office in the Presidency.

“I think it’s quite critical for us to say, as government, that we are not intending to replace or to interfere in the operational or … governance or … managerial responsibility of Eskom. Eskom is an entity in its own right,” he said.

“We are saying to Eskom, ‘What is it that we can do as government to support you in implementing your recovery generation plan?’ ”

Even if plant performance at Eskom was improved, it remained important to bring additional megawatts onto the grid, he said.

“Eskom will still require the kind of space for it to run longer-term maintenance. It would have to take into consideration some of the indications that are in the [Integrated Resource Plan] around decommissioning … to put more megawatts on to the grid.”

Operation Vulindlela, a joint initiative of the Presidency and National Treasury to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms and support economic recovery, had been effective in opening up the electricity market space, particularly at the generation level, Dicks said.

“That has significantly opened up the private sector space. There are now a potential 104 projects exceeding 9,000MW, and that’s quite important, because this is part of many of the interventions to try and reduce the energy supply gap,” he said.

Moving households off the grid

Dicks explained that the quickest way to get more megawatts on to the grid was to focus on photovoltaics (PVs), wind power and battery storage, which would not preclude using other forms of technology to ensure grid support.

Rooftop solar PV is “quite important because we’ve been talking about that for many months and years”, he said. “We’ve already finalised a net billing framework, but what is more important is to incentivise households to move off from the grid or partially move off from the grid [with] rooftop solar.

He said the government intended to get as many households off the grid, or partially off the grid, as possible.

“We expect the minister of finance in his Budget speech to make quite clear, precise announcements as to what sort of financial incentives that would [involve],” Dicks said.

Potential incentives were a supporting mechanism through the tax system and a bounce-back loan plan for small-, medium- and micro-enterprises (SMMEs), Dicks said.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Ramaphosa’s tax incentives a ray of light for solar panel roll-out to ease SA’s energy crisis

One of the demand-side interventions to address the electricity crisis would be the refitting of government facilities with renewable energy and battery storage equipment, said Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, head of the Investment and Infrastructure Office in the Presidency.

“We have computed that we are using up to 320MW — that is all of government at a national level, and this is before we go to provincial and local authority level,” he said.

“So, we’ll be going out to market before the end of March for the private sector to make investments in that space to repurpose buildings, and I think at the conclusion of that we’ll be able to relieve the demand side, reduce it by 320MW.”

Infrastructure update

Ramokgopa provided a progress update on some government infrastructure projects. He pointed out that the “climate-induced fate” of South Africans had received widespread attention.

“We have seen that many communities are cut off from opportunities [and] kids can’t access their schools as a result of major floods that have happened in large parts of the country, especially in the areas of the Eastern Cape, KZN and Gauteng,” he said.

“That has a direct implication on the infrastructure and, of course, part of it is largely because of inadequate infrastructure to accommodate the kind of climatic changes that we’re experiencing.”

In line with announcements from the President’s 2022 Sona, the government is committing significant resources to the building of bridges in rural areas. 

“The President had committed to construction of 95 bridges in the next medium-term period, over a period of three years,” Ramokgopa said. “In the current financial year, we will be in a position to conclude about 48 of these bridges. 

“The reason there’s been a delay in the rollout of these bridges is because the in-year allocation was only received late in the financial year, but we’re more than confident that we will be able to catch up in the next financial years.”

Of the 48 bridges Ramokgopa spoke about, 24 were already completed or in advanced stages of completion in KwaZulu-Natal.

Construction would have started mainly in two provinces — the Eastern Cape and Limpopo — by the end of the financial year.

“We have now received fiscal support for the next three years of R3.7-billion to roll out these bridges.”

Keeping promises

Ramokgopa said there were 780,000km of road in South Africa, with only 20% of these surfaced. The remaining 80% were gravel roads.

The government has committed to surfacing 685km of rural roads. At this stage, 196km of roads are under construction and 36km has been completed.

On the matter of water infrastructure, Ramokgopa said R8-billion had been set aside for the construction of the Ntabelanga Dam in the Eastern Cape, which would start at the beginning of the next financial year, around April. Work on Lalini Dam, the second dam in the scheme, would start after that.

Ramokgopa said the government had “strategic integrated projects” meant to accelerate the delivery of school infrastructure, social housing and human settlements.

“We had made a promise … to the tune of about R340-billion of these projects that had to be rolled out… As I stand before you … R232-billion of those projects are in construction.” DM

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