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South Africa pushes to delay coal plant closures

A coal-fired power station in South Africa

Photo by Bloomberg

31st March 2023

By: Bloomberg

  

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South Africa has told rich countries backing its $8.5-billion energy transition deal that it wants to delay the closure of some units at its coal-fired power plants, people familiar with the situation said.

Years of mismanagement and corruption have decimated South Africa’s coal-dependent power sector but connecting the renewable energy units envisaged under its Just Energy Transition Partnership will take longer than expected.

With blackouts often exceeding 10 hours a day, the government is under pressure to hold on to whatever generation capacity it has.

The government has yet to make a decision and no formal request has been submitted to its JETP partners, but they are likely to take a pragmatic attitude given the power crisis and political constraints, the people said. They asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Unveiled at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the JETP is meant to help South Africa end its dependence on coal and meet its target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Under the agreement, which was formally signed last year, a mix of loans, grants and debt guarantees from Germany, France, the US, UK and the European Union will help South Africa build out renewable alternatives.

Troubled state power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. closed the dilapidated Komati plant last year and is due to close another 5 of its 14 remaining coal-fired plants by 2030.

Vikesh Rajpaul, who runs the Just Energy Transition office at Eskom, said life extensions are not being considered for the aging plants but some units may have to be kept open longer than planned to address the electricity crisis.

“There is an understanding and appreciation for the energy shortage that we have,” he said of talks with JETP partners.

Vincent Magwenya, a spokesman for the South African presidency, didn’t immediately respond to a text message or answer his phone. The funding partners all said they remain committed to the JETP, without commenting on the possibility of delays.

Edited by Bloomberg

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