The South African government is considering a civil society request for an extension to the comment period for the draft integrated resource plan, or IRP2010, for electricity. But Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has also indicated that government is still keen to have the plan promulgated by year-end.
Business, community and labour representatives met with government on Friday as part of ongoing consultation processes under the National Stakeholders Advisory Council on Energy, which is chaired by Motlanthe.
At the meeting, the civil society groupings requested that the comment period on the IRP2010, the draft of which was published on October 8, be extended from 30 to 60 days. They said that the extension would ensure better quality inputs into the document, which will provide a framework for South Africa's power generation mix for the next 20 years.
The promulgation of the IRP2010 has already been delayed to facilitate consultation and input from various government departments and the Department of Energy (DoE) had been hoping to present it to Cabinet in November, ahead of promulgation.
However, business representative to the energy council Dr Raymond Parsons said that, owing to the complexity of the document and its underlying assumptions, the stakeholders felt more time was needed. This, he said, would help to ensure that the right decisions were made on the important issue of electricity "from the outset".
Labour and community groups, including influential environmental organisations, also agreed that an extension was advisable.
DoE director-general Nelisiwe Magubane said that government was willing to consider accommodating the request, but stressed that public hearings would continue in early November as outlined in a recent Government Gazette notice. The National Energy Regulator of South Africa would host these hearings, the format and dates of which would be disclosed soon.
Magubane also stressed that any additional consultation period would not lead to a delay in the initiation of bidding processes for the first renewable energy feed-in tariff projects, with 1 025 MW of such capacity already catered for under the IRP1.
It would also not influence plans to move ahead with the implementation of initiatives highlighted in the medium-term risk mitigation plan (MTRMP), which had been published alongside the IRP2010.
The MTRMP identifies a number of urgent interventions to ensure that the "lights stay on" between 2011 and 2016 - a period during which the country's reserve margin would make the system vulnerable to blackouts.
Parsons argued for an asymmetrical approach, whereby the MTRMP was fast-tracked, while more time was given to finalising the IRP2010.
Magubane stressed, though, that the plan would be revised from time to time and indicated that it would also be possible to improve it in later versions. The next edition is expected in 2012.