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Illustrasie voor in Kort geskiedenis van die Hugenote

Lifestyle Section - Opinion

  Listening to minister in the presidency Jeff Rad-ebe unctuously assuring the media that our troubles with Eskom are under control, makes me hear echoes of the opening lines of that hilarious, albeit offensive, Australian comedian, Kevin “Bloody” Wilson’s ode to Christmas: “Ho, ho, bloody ho, what a crock of s**t!”

Are we really expected to believe that? All those portentous utterances about setting up a “war room” to deal with the current electricity crisis, the glib assurances that fuel will be available for Eskom’s hungry gas turbines, that we will import gas as a substitute for this very same diesel, that we’ll harness a further 1 000 megawatts from co-generation agreements from the paper, pulp and sugar industries.

And the cherry on the top, is his statement (which is completely in accord with President Zuma, according to weekend press reports) that this is all because of the legacy of apartheid.

Well, yes and no.

The truth of the matter is that, in the 1970s and 1980s, Eskom did construct an enormous amount of base-load generation capacity in the form of coal-fired power stations.

The decision was motivated by a view that grand apartheid would be realised, and that South Africa would grow economically in exponential terms, because it would have an abundant supply of cheap labour living in quasi-independent vassal-states, to work in its factories and mines.

To fuel that industrial growth, the country would need abundant, cheap electricity. But once the anti-apartheid movement bit deep, economic prospects shrank rapidly, and the idle power stations were mothballed one by one. It became cheaper to shut them down, than to keep them ticking over.

Along came 1994, and the ANC embarked upon a programme to connect the households of the previously disadvantaged to the grid, so that they could enjoy access to affordable electricity with all of its attendant benefits. And this was, of course, the right thing to do. Trouble is, nobody seems to have asked the question: “from where will all of this electricity be coming?”

And so the demand on the grid increased over time, until in 2008, the pawpaw hit the fan for the first time, and we had rolling blackouts – it was only later that some wag from Eskom’s PR department coined the euphemism “load shedding.”

That should have been warning enough, that the country faced even greater problems in the future, particularly if the mythical economic growth rate of 8% a year – which would lift us out of the quagmire of unemployment, inequality and poverty – was to be achieved.

That didn’t seem to be a significant enough warning bell, because the very measures which are now being proposed, should have been implemented after the 2008 energy crisis.

Instead, the country flirted with pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) technology as a solution to our impending energy calamity, only to can the project after spending billions of rands on what was a patently unworkable solution.

The next hastily-conceived plan revolved around building two new nuclear power stations, one in the southern Cape and one on the West Coast, but that project foundered because we just didn’t have the money. (Which makes one wonder where the estimated R1 trillion will come from for the planned 10 nuclear power plants which are to be built over the next 30 years.)

Yes, the gas turbines that Eskom currently uses, are designed to run on gas, but how does one get gas to them in a hurry?

You don’t. Infrastructure must be built which will take anything from three to five years to come online. And besides, the gas is in oceanic fields, off the Mozambican and Namibian coasts, which just makes it that much more expensive.

And on the co-generation issue, I’m unsure as to where the 1 000 megawatts of “wasted power” from the paper, pulp and sugar industries, will come from, because those co-generation agreements pre-date democracy.

The pulp and paper industry for example, uses steam for process heat, and a lot of it. In order to generate that steam, every paper mill in the country has one or more boilers in operation, one of which will be a soda recovery furnace, which, while it recovers one of the important chemicals in the pulp making process, generates heat to make steam.

The steam is also used to generate electricity, and most pulp and paper mills, certainly the large ones, have their own turbine generator sets on site, which are constantly producing electricity which is also used in the pulp and paper making process. Whatever excess power is generated gets pumped straight back into Eskom’s grid, as has been happening for decades. It’s not as if there is another 1 000 megawatts of additional unutilised capacity out there.

Yes, Kusile and Medupi power stations, those two much-delayed coal fired monsters, along with one or more un-mothballed older power stations, will eventually come online, but it is all just a matter of too little, too late.

And this bleating about bringing independent power producers onto the grid is just so much baloney.

The very same independent power producers which Eskom now desperately needs, have been knocking at the door for years, begging the regulatory authority to determine feed-in tariffs and to facilitate their admission to the grid.

If the ANC government really wants to blame somebody for the current disastrous state of the country’s electricity generation and distribution capability, it ought to just look in the nearest mirror.

And you and I will naturally foot the very substantial bill.

Written by Norman McFarlane You are reading Illustrasie voor in Kort geskiedenis van die Hugenote articles

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