Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke
Coal mining company Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke has hit back at critics who have labelled his desire to invest in renewable energy while being a coal advocate as contradictory.
Speaking at the Wits Mining Seminar, in Johannesburg, on September 28, Teke said he had received criticism for being “neither fish nor fowl”, with one foot in coal and the other in renewables.
“That's a stupid comment. Why don't you say that to the automobile people that we've seen major mass-producing internal combustion engines about their own electric vehicles? Is there any difference with that? No. There is no difference. The world is moving on. The world is transitioning,” he said.
He confirmed that, while he was a coal bull, he believed in the scientific evidence of climate change and, by extension, the need for an energy transition.
"Renewables are here and renewables are going to take over, over a period of time. But we need to understand that fossil fuels will still have a role to play. I love coal a lot. I believe in fossil fuels. I believe in coal,” Teke said.
Expressing his disagreement with the idea of immediately shutting down coal-fired power stations, he emphasised the potential devastating consequences for both the economy and society.
Teke argued against setting strict deadlines for the phase-out of fossil fuels, cautioning, "Let's be careful about that conversation. What I am discouraging, is a wrong conversation where we talk about shutting down coal power stations tomorrow. It's an old debate and you’re wasting time because you know it's not going to happen."
He highlighted that countries such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia and India were still relying on coal and even constructing new coal-fired power stations, thereby ensuring that coal demand would remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“That doesn't mean I am saying fossil fuels will be here [for] another 200 years. The point I'm making is that there are countries that still believe they are going to use fossil fuels,” Teke said.
He encouraged a balanced approach to the transition to renewables, imploring South Africa to not abandon fossil fuels rashly and irresponsibly. He called for a more holistic view towards creating a new energy mix, focusing on reliability, affordability, safety, minimal environmental impact, community upliftment, and value creation in the energy sector.
“If I look at the portfolio of our power stations, I believe the politicians in our country have wasted time by not allowing those people who are capable, the technocrats, the people who have the vision, to run our power stations optimally and make sure that we don't have loadshedding,” Teke said.
While advocating for open-mindedness and exploring alternative energy sources, he maintained that coal would remain a part of the energy landscape for the foreseeable future. He expressed his confidence in the capacity of well-managed coal mines to support power stations and prevent energy shortages.
Although Teke acknowledged the inevitability of coal's decline, he noted that the rise of solar, wind and nuclear power was unavoidable.
He also criticised the US for shutting down coal-fired power stations only to export coal when prices rebounded, describing it as an imbalance in the global energy transition.
“Are you saying the other countries can be killed by your coal, but you don't want to burn the coal? That's the imbalance that I'm fighting. Let's not waste time with that nonsense debate. We need to accept that the world is moving, and this pattern is going to emerge over a period of time,” Teke said.
He said it was unavoidable that South Africa would need to still rely on coal for now but that it was important nonetheless to accelerate investment in renewables.
“Does that make me a contradicted person? Does that make me confused? No, it does not. I am taking advantage of opportunities that are going to emerge in this country. The big question is, how are you taking advantage of those opportunities?” he asked.