Light from the Tower of Babel

5th May 2023

By: Terence Creamer

Creamer Media Editor


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South Africa’s electricity discussion has become far less coherent in recent months, taking on all the characteristics of the Tower of Babel, despite the fact that most of the mixed messages have been delivered in English.

Even on points where agreement should be relatively straightforward to achieve, such as whether or not it is possible to end loadshedding by year-end, entirely different positions have been taken by individuals who sit around the very same Cabinet table.

Confusion has also reigned over the future of coal stations officially scheduled for retirement, as well as on what initiatives should be prioritised under the Energy Action Plan (despite the fact that this was thoroughly consulted and all but unanimously endorsed as the best way forward months ago).

Then, there have been the battles over what powers should be bestowed on the Electricity Minister, who does not want to be “ornamental” despite having been initially advertised as little more than a “project manager”.

Not to mention the flip-flopping over the State of Disaster and the utter lack of policy alignment on everything from the Just Energy Transition Partnership and compliance with air pollution legislation, through to whether some of the latest interventions contravene the conditions of the R254-billion Eskom debt-relief package, which was unveiled only a few months ago.

It’s mind-boggling that on the biggest threat to South Africa’s growth and development since Covid, South Africans are being subjected to displays of distracting and debilitating politicking that have little role in addressing the crisis at hand and absolutely no role in ensuring a sustainable future-facing electricity industry.

Given such a context, it is near impossible to identify the positive from the negative, let alone to seek to offer an uplifting message.

One recent development stands out as both noteworthy and worthy of some praise, however.

On April 19, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe published an explanatory summary of the much- anticipated Electricity Regulation Act Amendment Bill, which is now poised to be considered by Parliament.

The amendment paves the way, finally, for a competitive electricity market and provides for the establishment of a Transmission System Operator (TSO), whose duties, powers and functions will be assigned to the State-owned National Transmission Company South Africa, itself in the process of emerging from within the failing vertically integrated monopoly that is Eskom.

The precise powers of the TSO – which the Bill proposes to be responsible for the transmission network, system and market operations, while also housing a central purchasing agency – must be properly debated so as to address any unintended conflicts of interest.

However, as a signal, the Bill’s submission to Parliament is vital, while its passage will arguably represent the most important change in the South African electricity supply industry since the creation of Eskom 100 years ago.

It’s the sort of development that should be capturing the headlines, not all the other babble.

Edited by Terence Creamer
Creamer Media Editor


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