WHEN Medupi and Kusile were announced by our government in 2004 and 2007 respectively, the two coal-fired mega-projects were both seen as emblematic of South Africa’s democratic progress — key to the ruling alliance and its plans for the future.
The ruling labour-left coalition was at the height of its power. With its roots in the victorious anti-apartheid struggle, it had made no secret of its desire for a ‘mixed economic model’, in which a socialist command economy would prevail alongside the capitalist economy, and where the energy sector, would imitate policies from the days of the former Soviet Union. What could possibly go wrong?
According to Pretoria technocrats, a new era of cheap coal would herald in cheap and plentiful electricity with which to ‘build the nation’. Both consumers and workers would benefit. The latter from long-lived and extended public works programmes centred around coal, which in turn would drive salaries and feed households which had experienced some of the worst ravages of apartheid ‘separate development.”(1)
Thus it was that these two projects ballooned into costly engineering exercises, as complexity driven by the technocrats, bureaucrats and party officials, armed with Marxist texts and presidential directives, ruled the day. That Marxists tend to overtheorise economic problems, relying upon ideas such as ‘dialectical materialism’ and the ‘labour theory of value’ to arrive at their conclusions, in effect the triumph of ‘ideology over pragmatism’, has already been remarked upon.
What has not been said in the mainstream media is the manner in which unions such as COSATU, emboldened by socialist think-tanks such as the AIDC whose research is anything but lopsided (2), and with a culture of intolerance for differences in opinion, quixotically feed unemployment, climate change and the national debt. While the rest of the world is moving away from coal, South Africa’s coal ambitions have instead risen and include plans for at least several new coal plants such as Thabametsi, each one able to take our country into poll position as one of the top GHG emitters in the world.
Eskom’s coal-fired power plants persistently and significantly violates the air pollution limits in its licences.
“The main cause of its troubles” say Adjunct Professor Rod Crompton, is Eskom’s decision “to build two of the biggest coal fired generating plants in the world, (Medupi and Kusile). These plants are running way behind schedule, they’re over budget and the bits that are complete don’t work properly. They are probably the single largest disaster in South Africa’s economic history.”
Medupi is literally drowning in ash. The result of socialist bureaucrats implementing design changes via committee without sufficient input from scientists and engineers, whom they invariably ignore. This lack of concern for evidence-based research and scientific methodology in favour of ‘political education’ is not a new one, witness the failed Afro 4000 train debacle .
An editorial published by Engineering Weekly for example, debunks concerns from COSATU and others, surrounding loss of jobs due to renewables, and yet the union continues to demand a state-owned power utility on steroids, with little concern for loss of jobs in the broader economy and the tragic impact upon the livelihoods of those affected by outages and inefficiency.
“There is considerable support in South Africa” says Tobias Bishof-Niemz for the notion that a transition in the electricity system from coal to renewable energy will trigger a jobs bloodbath at both Eskom and the Mpumalanga coal mines. A detailed analysis of the job numbers, however, suggests quite the opposite. In fact, it points to there being at least 30% more jobs in a fleet comprising solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind farms when compared with an energy-equivalent coal fleet”
Meanwhile the brazen union federation staged a protest march this week, in response to the President’s plan to unbundle Eskom, in effect calling for Eskom and its mounting debt, to be supersized. Unbundling alone may not be enough to offset the crisis. Creating completely separate, independent and regional power utilities able to compete with each other would have a better chance of survival.
(1) See Rudzani Mudogwa’s recently published defense of coal which relies heavily on statements made by Gwede Mantashe.
(2) An article doing the rounds in the local press purporting to be by “Dr Sweeney, an AIDC visiting researcher, with the City University of New York’s ‘School of Labor and Urban Studies’,” claims splitting up Eskom ‘will result in privatization’. If one follows the logic of the argument presented, it is the West (including NY City) that is in the grip of rolling blackouts and massive debt run-up by Energy Companies since they were unbundled from the State. No citations, case examples nor evidence is provided by the ‘researcher’.
IT IS NOT often that one gets to see blatant greenwashing non-science on SABC, ‘the use of marketing to portray an organization’s products, activities or policies as environmentally friendly when they are not’. The latest antics of the Dept of Environment’s Edna Molewa is possibly a low-point in the campaign to shift South Africa from coal to renewables.
In a televised broadcast from Sasol in Secunda, Molewa appears to claim an Oxygen (O2) plant ‘the world’s largest” is the solution to GHG. Gesticulating wildly without any supporting evidence, the minister claims that the O2 plant “helps us to fulfill our nationally determined contributions we committed ourselves to in Paris”
The departmental gibberish about reduction in tonnes of GHG and energy efficiency, sounds exactly like a Zuma-era Eleventyseven, a purported 20% more energy efficient system is suddenly an 80% reduction in GHG? Is she quoting our national GHG targets? The medium-term goal of INCREASING CO2 equivalent emissions to somewhere between 398 – 614 MtCO2e until 2025 and 2030, which, according to the department “will represent South Africa’s peak GHG emissions phase” and only then to “reduce emissions thereafter up to 2050.”
No, she may as well be just making up her figures and fluffing stats as she goes along, while the public is oblivious to the problem that South Africa has committed itself to ramping up GHG until 2030 and only thereafter reducing emissions. The country negotiated a COP-out deal at Paris, and has been given until 2030 by other nations to come up with better targets, by which time, the human species will be extinct.
You can thank the ANC and Dame Edna Molewa for thinking through the nuts and bolts of a dangerous negotiation strategy called ‘Peak, Plateau and Decline‘, which is really a massive failure of governance and will haunt future generations and our own, for a long time to come. Given our low GHG profile over the turn of the century, we chose a dirty coal future instead of renewables and environmental justice.
The rush by the department to provide a positive spin on Sasol gas and Big Coal, is most certainly a reaction to a very public End Fossil Fuels campaign. Eish, look, there’s O2, must be good for the environment, bang.
To put this in some perspective, GHG (or CO2 equivalent) includes Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, Methane, and Fluorocarbons. According to a statement released by SASOL the plant is merely an ‘air separation plant’, separating out Oxygen and Nitrogen. IT WILL NOT REMOVE CARBON as such from the atmosphere, but rather create less O and N in the atmosphere, while redoubling the coal and natural gas operation. If anything any carbon chains (and we have yet to see any information on the actual process) in SASOL’s primary operation will simply be going into more fossil fuel energy systems, and right back into the atmosphere, and must not be seen as a solution to the problem.
Bongani Nqwababa SASOL CEO can also be seen launching into a big speech about ‘government targets on beneficiation of minerals’ set during the past Zuma administration, 14 million tonnes of COAL to produce 30% of fuel in SA and this without mentioning GHG. Falsely claims process is more efficient, since according to him, ‘O2 reduces need for Coal’, and no we not going to be driving around in oxygen-powered vehicles any time soon, it would be far better if Nqwababa was announcing that SASOL was shifting away from liquid fuels to renewable energy while promoting EV technologies. South Africa is falling far behind Western nations in their rush to adopt eco-friendly transport systems.
Molewa later attempted to clarify her idiotic statements in Businessday, claiming that SASOL would be saving 200 000 tonnes of CO2 because of energy efficiency. The group produced some 69,3 Mt of CO2 equivalent in 2016 and contributes some 14.5% to our nation’s total. How exactly the savings target would be derived from an expansion in production of fossil fuel components remains to be seen. In other words, Sasol just increased our GHG emissions but did it in a more efficient manner. Until such time as Sasol releases a road-map for ending fossil fuels, its attempt to greenwash itself as an “oxygen company” must be viewed with some skepticism.
Local media outlets appear to have bought into the Big Rand greenwashing figures surrounding the Sasol investment, and are touting a relativistic and unproven ‘breathing fresh air into the economy story‘ as a solution to climate change, even if it means first polluting the environment with dirty coal. The audit mechanism surrounding fossil fuels will be coming up for debate in the National Assembly later this year, as a carbon tax is being introduced from next year. It remains to be seen whether or not any carbon offsets will be factored into the new tax regime, in effect making adoption of renewables more economical via a rebate on solar and EV.