Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
- The proposed new company will take over three Eskom coal power plants that are set for decommissioning, according to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
- The plan is to convert the plants into gas power stations.
- According to Mantashe, money for the new power generation company and its projects will come from a combination of the state, the market and investors.
- Get the biggest business stories emailed to you every weekday, or go to the TIF News front page.
South Africa is forging ahead with a plan to create a new state-owned power company by converting three coal-fired plants into gas-burning generators to ease the nation’s energy crisis.
State power utility Eskom generates most of South Africa’s electricity, and has subjected the country to rolling blackouts since 2008 because its old and poorly maintained facilities can’t keep pace with demand. The proposed new company, dubbed Generation 2, will take over the three plants that are set for decommissioning, according to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
“If we re-purpose them into gas power stations, we will save a lot of life in South Africa in terms of energy,” Mantashe said in an interview in his office in Pretoria, adding that it was “urgent” to create the company. The ministry plans to invite engineering firms to study the plants and offer advice, he said.
South Africa has been struggling to boost generation since 2008. At least five rounds of bids for renewable power projects haven’t added sufficient capacity, while an emergency plan to add electricity is mired in legal wrangles. A new state electricity generation company is yet another attempt to find a solution to the crisis that has hampered economic growth in Africa’s most-industrialised nation.
Mantashe’s plans envisages taking over the ageing Hendrina, Grootvlei and Camden power plants, which have a combined generation capacity of 4 800 megawatts.
Still, procuring inexpensive gas for the converted plants may prove to be a challenge. Russia’s war on Ukraine has countries across the world scrambling for the fuel, with Europe even considering rationing. US natural gas futures, which have more than doubled this year, rose above $9 per million British thermal units at 8:25 a.m. in London.Opposition parties are also skeptical of the government’s plans, given its poor track record in overseeing state companies.
‘Out of Touch’
The idea of setting up a new power utility “proves beyond any doubt that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is completely out of touch and clueless on what needs to be done to address the electricity crisis,” said Ghaleb Cachalia, the main opposition DA’s shadow minister for public enterprises.Almost a third of Eskom’s plants will reach end-of-life as early as 2023. To replace the plants and add capacity needed to meet rising demand will take years and cost more than R1 trillion.
Money for the new power generation company and its projects will come from a combination of the state, the market and investors.”Money follows ideas,” Mantashe said.
“If you come up with a sustainable proposal, and it makes sense, investors will come.”
Once the proposal is approved, the government will invite engineering, procurement, construction companies. The cost of converting the plants would be determined at that point, said Maduna Ngubeni, the department’s head of projects.
South Africa also plans to build a new 2 500-megawatt nuclear plant, Mantashe said. The modular nuclear plant will be constructed at Thyspunt in the Eastern Cape province, the minister said.
“Nuclear is another very important base-load commodity,” Mantashe said. “It is very efficient and reliable.”
Generation 2 would be under Mantashe’s department, unlike Eskom, which is managed by the Department of Public Enterprises.
Eskom can reliably produce about 26 000 megawatts at present, against a winter peak of 32 000 megawatts. It’s also saddled with R396 billion of debt.