Electricity minister slams climate finance pact

By Antony Sguazzin

South Africa’s electricity minister attacked the country’s groundbreaking $8.5 billion climate finance pact with some of the world’s richest nations, alongside finance from other sources, whereby it will close some coal-fired power plants and re-purpose them to produce renewable energy. 

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa told a meeting organized by Standard Bank Group Ltd. that the closure of Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd.’s Komati Power Station, the first plant to be shuttered, was “an injustice that is unfolding at Komati in the name of the transition.”

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Ramokgopa’s observations, while chiming with earlier comments made by Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe and the concerns of labor unions, may further inflame tensions around the so-called Just Energy Transition Program, which is behind schedule. South Africa is yet to produce an implementation plan that would allow money to flow from France, Germany, the US, UK and the European Union.

“On the delay of the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations and our commitments we set ourselves to decarbonise the economy and move to a fossil [fuel]-free economy.”#MinisterofElectricity pic.twitter.com/keiF2wu8Jm— Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa (@Kgosientsho_R) July 24, 2023

“If I had my way we would go and restart the units at Komati,” he said. “We closed a power station which was the best performing power station at the time that we closed it and because someone gave us money and said decarbonize we are getting 217 megawatts of alternative energy and we removed 1,000 megawatts.”

Ramokgopa repeated comments made previously by Mantashe that South Africa was being used as a “guinea pig,” for the green transition. Vietnam, Indonesia and Senegal are pursuing similar JETP agreements. He has pushed for the lifespans of some coal-fired plants to be extended. Money secured separately from the World Bank has been spent on the closure of Komati. 

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South Africa is currently suffering its worst ever power cuts — known locally as load shedding — as its aging coal-fired plants, which supply more than 80% of its energy, regularly break down.

Ramokgopa’s description of Komati don’t match its condition prior to its closure last year. When Bloomberg reporters visited the plant in early 2021 only one of its nine generating units was still operating, meaning it was producing just over 100 megawatts. The town surrounding the plant was rundown and there was little evidence of economic activity. (Bloomberg)

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