Every man and his dog has a view on electricity in SA

Martin van Staden, writing for the Daily Friend, looks at the most recent electricity policies of the top five largest opposition parties – in other words, what South Africans could expect were any of these parties to get into power next year. The DA would pay electricity consumers to feed renewable energy back into the grid while deregulating hindrances to private power generation, including the lifting of ‘obstructive constraints’ like BEE and local content requirements. Meanwhile, the EFF would like to see free electricity of up to 200 kWh per household per month to be given to the poor; needless to say no way of financing this was suggested. The article below will help you decide for yourself which party’s policies seem the most practical. – Sandra Laurence

Comparing the electricity policies of SA’s top five opposition parties

By Martin van Staden

Assuming South Africa will no longer be governed by the African National Congress and its affiliates in 2024 or 2029, how will its successor(s) take on South Africa’s crisis of rolling blackouts?

Let’s have a look at the electricity policies of the top five largest opposition parties.

We know what the effects of the ANC’s electricity policy are: they include the collapse of infrastructure and the theft of vast sums earmarked for electricity spending. We can see it play out in practice right before our eyes every day. So, it is worth asking what South Africa’s other parties have in mind, and whether their policies make any sense.

The summaries below are based on the most recent policy documents posted on the parties’ websites. In many cases, those are the 2019 election manifestos, which will presumably be updated soon as we approach the 2024 election. Some of the parties have succinct statements on the matter, while others have multiple-page documents. In the interests of brevity, the sections below include paraphrased summaries of the most interesting portions of the respective parties’ policies.

Democratic Alliance (DA)

The DA is one of only two parties on the list that have general policy statements as opposed to ad hoc election manifestos. The party’s position on electricity is:

  • Allow and pay electricity consumers to feed renewable energy back into the grid;
  • Grant a once-off tax rebate for the installation of small-scale embedded generation (e.g., residential rooftop solar) and feed-in meters;
  • Eliminate illegal connections and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to non-payment;
  • Unbundle Eskom;
  • Acquire new generation capacity in a ‘source agnostic manner’ as an immediate or short-term priority. Nonetheless, the DA is committed to renewable energy, with an eye toward the eventual phasing out of coal-fired power. Short- and medium-term ‘ambitions’ for nuclear power must be ‘set aside’;
  • Deregulate hindrances to private power generation, including the lifting of ‘obstructive constraints’ including BEE and local content requirements;
  • Get Eskom out of electricity generation as far as possible; sell viable Eskom power stations to the private sector; create a generation sector in which various generating companies compete, including ‘former Eskom generators, new public-private partnership generators, municipal generators, IPPs and distributed generators’;
  • Transform Eskom’s transmissions division into an Independent Transmission System and Market Operator to run the grid in a way that facilitates equal access to create an open and responsive electricity market;
  • Open electricity distribution to private partnerships; and
  • Establish a dedicated energy ministry divorced from mineral resources.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

Although it is in political opposition to the ANC, the EFF often behaves like an affiliate of the ANC, dedicated to capturing the far-left market. However, since it is functionally separate from the ANC, it was included on this list. The EFF has no general statement on electricity policy, and therefore its 2019 election manifesto was utilised. The manifesto usefully itemised the party’s position on electricity:

  • Mixed sources of energy must be utilised: ‘safe’ coal and nuclear to provide a ‘dependable energy base’, with the added ‘optimal use’ of renewables;
  • Eskom must ‘build a massive renewable energy division’;
  • All South Africa’s energy needs (including fuel and diesel) must be processed domestically;
  • Free electricity up to 200 kWh per household per month to be given to the poor;
  • Cancel all private power contracts and ‘stop the roll-out of new independent power producers immediately’;
  • All communities and every household will have power;
  • Establish ‘an independent state electricity economic research institute’ that will plan for the next 100 years of energy infrastructure;
  • Scrap all historical electricity debt;
  • Clear illegal connections;
  • ‘Heavy’ investment in renewables;
  • Cancel ‘all indexed fixed-price and cost-plus contracts’ and ‘all mining rights issued to companies mining coal mines that belong to Eskom’;
  • Create a government mining company to ‘take over the operations of all coal mines owned by Eskom’;
  • Build rail infrastructure around power plants and mines to transport goods between them;
  • Enlarge Eskom’s generation capacity;
  • Build a nuclear power station; and
  • Discontinue private ownership of Sasol and Mittal Steel.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)

The IFP used to have very handy general policy statements but these have apparently been discontinued. Its short 2019 election manifesto was therefore also used to get an idea of their position on electricity. As it turns out, the IFP has a very brief statement on the matter:

‘Ensure that renewable energy sources are fully developed as a part of South Africa’s energy supply mix in order to sustainably contribute to the increasing energy requirements of our developing country.’

Freedom Front Plus (FF+)

Like most of the others, the FF+ has no general policy statements, necessitating the use of its 2019 election manifesto. (As an aside, the party would benefit from improving the way it presents its manifestos.) Its proposition is:

  • Move away from ‘energy sources that are destructive to the environment’, like coal, to renewables – ‘harvesting, storing and distribution of renewable energy must be our focus’;
  • Also replace ‘petrol- and diesel-powered transport with electric transport.’ The FF+ ambitiously claims that under its leadership, ‘South Africa will be on the forefront of renewable energy development.’
  • ‘Prioritise the utilisation of renewable energy.’
  • Introduce tax discounts for those who utilise ‘alternative energy sources.’
  • ‘Utilise the under-developed parts of South Africa, like the Northern and Western Cape, for harvesting renewable energy.’

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP)

The most I could find from the ACDP on electricity policy was a press release and a tweet. It has no general policy statement nor does it have any mention of electricity in its 2019 election manifesto.

In its press release, the ACDP calls for red tape to be eased for ‘emergency power procurement’ and ‘experienced engineers and technicians’ to be brought in to solve the electricity crisis.

The party might have statements elsewhere but certainly nothing a casual visitor to their website would be able to find quickly.

Bonus: ActionSA

ActionSA is not yet represented in South Africa’s parliament but has the potential to be one of the top five after the next election. It is the only party other than the DA on this list to have general policy positions.

ActionSA’s position on electricity is spread across their ‘economic prosperity’, ‘professional public service’, and ‘climate change’ policy statements:

  • Encourage independent power producers to generate, transmit, and distribute renewable power;
  • Separate Eskom into generation, transmission, and distribution entities;
  • South Africa’s reliance on coal for electricity must be urgently reduced by allowing independent renewable power producers;
  • People who work in the coal mining industry are to be reskilled so they can transition to the renewables industry; and
  • Municipalities and households to be allowed to buy electricity directly from independent renewable power producers.

Evaluation

Everyone appears to be positively giddy about renewables. While there is nothing wrong with this, contrary to popular belief, an existential crisis is not an ‘opportunity’ to jettison what has been tried and tested. If South Africa hopes to end the crisis within a reasonable amount of time, luxurious considerations should be shelved, at least temporarily.

The DA is strongest on the imperative of source agnosticism, but it is clear at the same time that the party – like the others – is not enthusiastic about nuclear power, which is a clean and very efficient source of power. Certainly not coal. The FF+ appears most excited about renewables.

As far as detail is concerned, the DA seems to have the most well-thought-out policy on electricity. The ACDP, on the other hand, does not appear to have spent any resources on developing a coherent party position; and the IFP is similarly light on detail.

The EFF, without any doubt, takes the cake for having the most harmful electricity policy, perhaps even worse than that of the ANC. If anything is going to ensure South Africa de-industrialises, it would be the EFF’s local-content, State-only, debt-erased policy.

If electricity is your single most important issue going into the 2024 general election and you wish to vote for an established party, the DA would probably be your safest vote. The IFP, FF+, ACDP, and ActionSA would not be irrational choices. They do tend to have very similar positions. A vote for the ANC or EFF, however, would only satisfy a political masochist.

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