Despite great anticipation ahead of his address, reinstated Eskom CEO Brian Molefe did not open the annual African Utility Week, in Cape Town, as planned.
The CEO was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the opening plenary, attended by several thousand energy and water experts, but pulled out just before the gathering.
“This is a flagship event in our diary, but the Eskom CEO unfortunately had other urgent business to attend to,” said Eskom chairperson Ben Ngubane, at the opening.
He later told journalists that Molefe had to attend a briefing at Parliament, dismissing claims that the Eskom CEO did not address the opening as he may have been embarrassed by the outcry over his reinstatement.
He also disputed claims that he, together with Molefe, had pressurised former Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi, to help the Guptas take over Glencore’s Optimum coal mine.
“We cannot tell a Minister what to do. We take orders from Minsters. For a [former] Minister to now claim that we actually made him take a decision about something is preposterous,” said Ngubane.
The opening was due to be Molefe’s first public appearance since he was reinstated as the head of Eskom after a brief period as an MP.
Ngubane defended Molefe’s reinstatement, saying he should be credited with saving South Africa from blackouts. He said his reinstatement was the right decision.
“It is going to be for the good. He is going to carry on where he stopped – making electricity affordable for the people.”
The Eskom chairperson told the opening plenary that leaders and players in the energy space needed to contribute more to the region to enable growth.
“Now is the time to invest in the region in ways that ensure mutual benefit,” he said.
Deputy Public Enterprises Minister Ben Martins said the current energy deficit on the continent continued to be “alarming”.
“Energy-related challenges such as power shortages and expensive off-grid solutions cost African economies 2% to 4% of their gross domestic product every year.”
He said Eskom was committed to achieving long-term regional reliability of power through the Southern African Power Pool and other partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa.
He also advocated inter-utility export agreements among neighbouring countries, similar to that in Europe and the US.
He said power pooling among utilities harnessed savings in operating costs and ensured the reliability of the grid through a coordinated exchange of power.
Danish Ambassador to South Africa, Trine Rask Thygesen, credited South Africa for its Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) and said Denmark was supporting similar structures in Ethiopia.
“Integrating various renewables sources into the grid is absolutely do-able, especially here in Africa. It’s good for the environment and good for the economy.”
South African Renewable Energy Council chairperson Brenda Martin later told a session at Africa Utility Week that her work over the past year to shift the impasse with Eskom in moving the REIPPPP forward, had been very challenging.
Eskom and independent power producers remain at odds over the utility’s refusal, last year, to sign power purchase agreements (PPAs) for 37 renewables projects contracted under the REIPPPP. Although President Jacob Zuma in February announced that the PPAs would be signed, this has been delayed by the appointment of new Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi in March.
“The South African experience shows what can go wrong in practice, and how all good plans can be shot down. You should consider how to strengthen some of your ideas in the planning phase, so that there will be less risk when it comes to the implementation phase,” Martin advised African delegates.