We must reject the government’s dirty energy plans

This year’s Integrated Resources Plan is horrifying

By Alex Lenferna, Ferron Pedro, Promise Mabilo, Motlatsi Makhasane and Bertha Letsoko

20 March 2024

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is trying to lock the public and Eskom into a dirty, expensive, and unreliable energy future, say the authors. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Earlier this year the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy published its draft Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for public comment. The IRP lays out the government’s future energy plans, and for those reading carefully, the plan is horrifying.

The IRP is supposed to be a comprehensive document that outlines assumptions about electricity demand and supply, economic conditions, and costs of generating enough electricity to meet the needs of the country. It is meant to be a roadmap for South Africa’s energy future.

But it falls short in many ways.

For starters, the IRP lacks detail on how the rolling blackouts and loadshedding in South Africa will be addressed in a timely manner.

The plan would condemn South Africa to at least four years more of loadshedding, according to its own conclusions. That’s a very different picture to the false politician promises we hear that loadshedding will soon be over.

Instead of a just transition to a low carbon economy, the plan would lock us into decades more of expensive, polluting, and unreliable coal and gas power. Yet we are in the midst of a climate crisis, and we have cheaper, cleaner, and quicker technology available to build energy solutions, like solar, wind and storage, which could also create more jobs and drive down energy prices.

The latest draft by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy is even worse than previous plans. It guts new renewable energy investment compared to the 2019 IRP – which was already inadequate and was way out of line with needed climate action. For example, the new plan cuts wind power from the 17,742 MW by 2030 in the 2019 plan to a measly 4,468 MW. In fact, the plan slashes overall renewable energy investment almost in half compared to the previous plan. It does so to make way for more polluting and expensive alternatives, and false solutions.

For example, by 2030 the 2019 plan had baseload gas at 3,000 MW; the new plan more than doubles this to 7,000 MW. (Baseload gas is run almost constantly, whereas peak power is ramped up only when needed to cover shortages in supply.)

The new plan also delays the retirement of polluting and unreliable coal plants for up to a decade, many of which are already reaching the end of their life-span and are increasingly uneconomical to maintain.

All this goes against the evidence- and consultation-based recommendations of the government’s own Presidential Climate Commission (PCC). Their detailed report, modelling and recommendations showed that there should be no new coal, and gas must be kept to a minimum, and only used for peak purposes, if at all.

Instead of slashing new renewable energy, the PCC report suggested that we rapidly ramp it up, by installing 50 to 60 GW of renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydro power by 2030, coupled with a widespread rollout of batteries for storage, and upgrading of the grid.

That renewable energy future would be more affordable, more reliable, and less polluting according to the analysis of the PCC and many independent experts. Yet, the IRP 2023 is trying to take us in the opposite direction, stifling renewables to lock us into coal and gas, which is driving the climate crisis, and has failed to deliver reliable energy access.

When all evidence points to a renewable energy future being better on so many fronts, it seems the reason for keeping us stuck in pollution, darkness, and rising tariffs is to line the pockets of a corrupt elite.

We cannot sit by while we are condemned to deepening energy, economic, and climate crises. During the week of Human Rights Day, the Climate Justice Coalition and its supporters will protest against the government’s energy plans and stand up for our human rights to electricity and to clean and safe air, water, and food for all.

We reject this Integrated Resource Plan because we have not been involved in its design. We will call for urgent, accessible and affordable energy for communities that will be led by communities. We will call for a rapid and just transition to a more socially-owned, renewable energy future, providing clean, safe, and affordable energy for all, with no community or worker left behind in the transition.

While we will be marching all across the country, our main march will be in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga - the place of coal. It’s a province where communities and workers have long suffered the devastating impacts of coal. Coal mine dust is making everyone sick, from the young to the old. Coal production is killing us and taking over and contaminating our natural resources like air, water and land.

In the place of coal’s devastating legacy, we will demand a truly just transition that does not guarantees decent livelihoods, and delivers an economically, socially, and ecologically just future for our people, without leaving behind communities and workers dependent on coal.

Energy apartheid

While the DMRE tries to lock the public and Eskom into a dirty, expensive, and unreliable energy future, it is also liberalising the energy market. The result is that the private sector is making a massive dash for cleaner, more affordable and reliable renewable energy and storage.

As researchers have shown, the result is that the affluent can more easily buy their way out with renewable energy and storage while the working class majority are condemned to darkness thanks to Eskom’s failures and the high upfront costs of renewables.

That’s why we are calling for a People’s Energy Plan that delivers a rapid and just transition to a more socially-owned, renewable energy powered future for all with a Green New Eskom driving that vision. We call on the government to deliver such a plan through mechanisms like the Integrated Energy Planning process that the government is legally obliged to use but has not done.

The DMRE’s process of energy planning was an undemocratic and biased process, excluding people from meaningful engagement and involvement. As the detailed submissions by the Climate Justice Coalition’s youth members at the African Climate Alliance point out, youth have been largely excluded from the process. That’s one of many reasons that they reject the draft IRP.

A People’s Energy Plan must be founded on true energy democracy. It must give people a meaningful voice in understanding, being part of, and shaping their energy future. It must also be based on the best available evidence, and properly factor in the social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits of different energy options. It must work to rapidly solve our energy crisis and deliver economic, ecological, and social justice and well-being for all.

South Africa should be a place of light. We are blessed with some of the world’s most abundant sun and wind. Harnessing 21st century technologies in service of a more just future could drive massive job creation and help pull us out of the darkness.

Ferron Pedro is from 350Africa.org, Promise Mabilo is from Vukani Environmental Movement, Motlatsi Makhasane is from Working for Climate, Bertha Letsoko is from African Climate Reality Project, and Alex Lenferna is from the Climate Justice Coalition, a South Africa coalition of trade unions, civil society, grassroots, and community-based organisations working together to advance a transformative climate justice agenda.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp.