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Mantashe raises red flag over lack of grid capacity, re-introduces nuclear power to mix

Mantashe raises red flag over lack of grid capacity, re-introduces nuclear power to mix
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said lack of grid capacity was the ‘single-most challenge’, but didn’t propose remedies. Yet despite doubtful grid connectivity, Mantashe rolled out megawatts to be procured as renewables — and 2,500MW nuclear — in his Budget vote speech. 

It’s a neat political sleight of hand — the national power grid is Eskom’s which falls to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s Cabinet colleague, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who is also responsible for the unbundled Eskom transmissions entity.

But officially no tensions or confused policymaking exists, nor a turf between those two ministers — and Electricity Minister in the Presidency Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. President Cyril Ramaphosa in his 11 May parliamentary question slot told the House it was all Kumbaya in his Cabinet — “There are no fights in Cabinet. There is no turf war…” 

That megawatts from renewable independent power producers that could not be connected to the grid is already on public record. But on Tuesday Mantashe reiterated how 3,200MW of wind capacity of the 4,200MW of Bid Window 6 could not be allocated due to grid unavailability.

“Notably, the single-most challenge we face to address the energy crisis is the grid unavailability. That is beginning to be the problem because you can increase the generation, but if there is no grid capacity, the impact is not the same,” said the minister going off script, after earlier appealing to MPs to speedily process the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill.

Why Mantashe would think this draft legislation was before Parliament remains unclear. A quick look at the national legislature’s website would have shown him it wasn’t yet. 

While something had been sent to the national legislature, this failed to meet legislative drafting minimum standards. It’s understood how for the past couple of weeks Parliament’s Bills Office is panel beating this document to ensure legislative drafting and format compliance.

This amendment legislation is crucial to establish a transmission systems operator, but also to set standards, tariffs and norms like wheeling, or selling spare private power capacity to the national grid. Eskom may still construct it’s planned 8,500kms of transmission lines, but without the amended electricity regulation legislation, for example, spare power from embedded private power projects can’t really be wheeled onto the national grid, for everyone’s benefit.

Regardless of concerns of inadequate grid connectivity, on Tuesday Mantashe rolled out the megawatts to be added — 5,000MW from independent renewable power producers in Bid Windows 7 and 8 by 31 March 2024, and further requests for proposals on 1,230MW battery storage procurement.

In the three months from July 2023, the DMRE will issue a request for proposals for 3,000MW gas-to-power, signally a potential new window of opportunity for Karpowership, the floating producer of electricity from gas whose bid has been stuck in legal and environmental challenges until a recent reprieve. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Greasing the skids: Karpowership clinches last-minute ‘special directive’ from SA government

Ramaphosa recently threw his support behind such power ships, although he did not name Karpowership, which also operates elsewhere along the African coast. “(Other countries)have brought in ships that are able to generate energy and immediately solved their energy problems and challenges. And I do believe that that is the way to go right now, to add those megawatts that we don’t have…” Ramaphosa said during his 11 May question slot in Parliament. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Add those megawatts’ — Ramaphosa backs Karpowership and slowing down coal power plant decommissioning

From January 2024 a request will be issued for procurement proposals for 2,500MW nuclear energy, presumably on the back of provisions in the 2019 Integrated Resources Plan (IRP2019) even as this document is reviewed, with the submission of a draft IRP2023 to Cabinet expected, according to Mantashe, sometime between July and September 2023.

Both proposals are hugely controversial. But the restated nuclear procurement plays into the longstanding, ultimately unsuccessful nuclear procurement from Russia by the Jacob Zuma administration. While National Treasury had resisted allocating monies, the potential nuclear deal was nixed in April 2017 by the legal challenge of Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and Earthlife Africa. 

Perhaps for this reason, and officialdom’s dislike of communities opposing mining like Xolobeni on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast, Mantashe hauled out criticism of “foreign-funded” non-governmental organisations actually stalling South Africa’s development.

“Many of the people, who are running anti-development NGOs, are foreign-funded and they block development in our country. To me, I don’t think the issue is climate change or development — it is both,” Mantashe said going off script, adding later how the Namibia energy projects the DA cited were underway after they “were chased away here because we want to be a small clean space” in a developing world.

“We have given environmentalists … power over development. It’s not right. It’s something we must look at. We must change our legislation, if need be.”

Mantashe’s Budget speech provides a key window into the political backroom machinations from the political, policy and governance on the energy front — regardless of government’s PR statements. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    For the tenth time, can somebody please ask:

    How much transmission capacity was assigned to which non IPP companies and for how much money? The family jewels got stolen imho.

    We have many ISP with existing connected grid capacity that can triple their output over those existing scarce transmission networks, fast. Basically : an IPP with a 100MW connection that delivers intermittent 550MWh per day adds more solar and storage and turns itself into a UPS that supplies 1500MWh a day 6AM to 9PM. Just add solar and storage, all else is in place. Pay the IPP R1.50/kWh for energy from 6AM to 9AM and 6PM to 9PM, the rest is at 50c/kWh or whatever the last round was awarded at. = baseload power at 1/5 what diesel costs and it can be done in a year.

    Is there nobody with a left brain cel in government?

  • John Cartwright says:

    Mantashe is a one-person unaccountable national roadblock.

  • Angela Dyer says:

    Apart from corruption, part of Eskom’s problem is a lack of maintenance over many years, imagine the consequences if nuclear plants are treated in the same way.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      The previous generators of power were in the north-east of the country where the main coal fields are. So Mpumalanga for instance has a lot more grid capacity than the Eastern, western & Northern Cape, because most of the energy used came from there, while in the EC, WC & NC only the electricity used by those provinces went through the part of the grid in those provinces. But with the renewables the best place for harvesting sun energy is the Northern Cape (because the Karoo is relatively dry & has more sun). As for wind, the three Cape provinces has the most wind. So in future most of the electric energy will come from there, so the grid in those provinces must now be increased so they can provide it. Most people don’t know that by about 2016 more than 6GW had already been available from these three provinces AND were connected to the grid; apparently that utilized the grid in those provinces to the grid’s capacity. So to utilize more renewables from there, the grid capacity has to be increased. I would say that for hydro-electric pump power stations to be built, the grid in KZN will also have to be increased. Accordingvto me this was supposed to have been done long ago already, but with the Medupi & Kusile power stations, Eskom got itself in too much debt and could not afford to borrow another R200 billion to upgrade the grid. I suspect that that is one reason why the government wants to separate the distribution from the rest; so distribution can borrow money again.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    What are foreign funded anti development NGO’s? Always a boogie man to blame for his own failure!!! Hilarious if it wasn’t so childish and inept. His Russian trips are about to pay off…Nuclear Power from Russia and or Kapowerships from Turkey with a Russian incentive….all roads lead to
    Red Square it seems!

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Absolutely, Minister Mantashe loves to demonize the environmentalists, and the President lately is echoing all of Minister Mantashe’s sentiments. It is completely the government’s fault that we have this energy crisis, and that it is continually worsening. It is quite clear that government is manoeuvring to force the implementation of the karpowerships and now nuclear power to be implemented, having ensured that the electricity crisis is now so severe that to avoid a collapse to the system, we are forced to accept whatever pet projects the government decrees. The whole nuclear plan seemingly links with the government’s approach of supporting Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, harking back to the previous President’s push to implement the disastrous proposed nuclear progamme. It would certainly be worthwhile delving further into the nuclear proposals and the karpowerships to really bring to light what is going on.

      It is also clear, that whatever project that Minister Mantashe is proposing, it is corrupt, and is certainly not in the best interests of the country.

  • rmrobinson says:

    Is this man to be trusted?

  • Francois du Toit says:

    So now there is not enough grid capacity for wind power to be transmitted from coastal areas, but the Karpowerships gets the (not so) green light. Don’t these wind power IPPs know how much to add in kick-backs and to whom?

    • Anne Fischer says:

      My question exactly – or can our grid only carry Eskom and Karpowship type of electricity because renewable energy is different? I’m patently not understanding this correctly …..

  • Cliff McCormick says:

    Could someone explain why Eskom had enough grid capacity to distribute 45 (?) GW, are now distributing 20 GW (on a good day) but somehow we do not have enough grid capacity to add power from solar or wind projects. Where did 20 GW of capacity disappear to?

  • Steve Davidson says:

    I really don’t know what everyone’s complaining about. At least Man-trashy the Magnificent (Maleficent? Malevolent?) has got the number of Zuma proposed nuclear plants down from eight to, what, two? A true hero of the soviet republic of Mzansi!

    Wonder how much his wife’ll make on this particular scam?

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