The Integrated Resource Plan should be finalised by August or September, depending on Cabinet’s reception of the energy blueprint, the director-general of the department of energy said on Tuesday.
“It will not be before June this year, but it might be by July, August. But then if Cabinet says go back and consult more, then that is in the hands of Cabinet,” Ompi Aphane told Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy.
Aphane and his colleagues said the department had received 63 presentations in nine public meetings — one in each province — since the draft plan was tabled, along with the draft Integrated Energy Plan, by Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson in November last year.
The department of energy’s Jacob Mbele said this meant that the department had begun tweaking the IRP based on input it had received.
“Based on the outputs from these committees they were able to include externalities that were not there in the first drafts,” he said.
Notably, the department has agreed to run a base case scenario with no constraints on feeding renewable energy into the electricity grid. One of the biggest criticisms of the draft released by the minister, was the assumptions it kept in place on limitations on the volume of renewable energy that could be bought and brought online.
Energy experts, including a ministerial advisory committee, have maintained the cheapest energy mix would not include building more nuclear reactors, contrary to calls by President Jacob Zuma to add 9,000 megawatts of new nuclear energy to the grid.
“Once we have taken all inputs from the public participation process into account the base case scenario will look different,” Ophane said.
The decision on study of renewables without restrictions was welcomed by Democratic Alliance’s energy spokesman Gordan Mackay.
“These are significant adjustments. We are very pleased to see base case scenario will be run for renewables in an unconstrained environment,” he said.
But Mackay noted that the department’s confirmation that it had “updated macro-economic costs and assumptions” in working on the draft IRP, as well as reports that Eskom was signing 20-year contracts with industry for lowered price electricity, were at odds with the utility’s Request for Information, put to markets in late December.
“It brings us back to assumptions of a lower demand and why are we procuring nuclear and who sets energy policy in the country,” he said.
“The IRP clearly makes a case for delay in nuclear procurement.”
The IRP base case suggests that South Africa would need 1,359 megawatts of nuclear power by 2037, which amounts to about two new reactors commissioned by that date.
But Eskom is proceeding on the basis of the last IRP, which was drafted in 2010, which put the date for bringing online new nuclear reactors as 2022.
The chairman of the committee, Fikile Majola, expressed exasperation at the apparent divide between the ministry, which sets policy, and what Eskom was “doing in practice”.
He stressed that the most recent Cabinet lekgotla had pointed to a need for Joemat-Pettersson to meet with Lynne Brown, her counterpart at the ministry of public enterprises which oversees Eskom.
“There cannot be confusion over that, that thing must be clarified… Eskom is not a department, it reports to a department,” he said.
But Mbele said after the briefing that at this point, Eskom had little choice but to rely on the previous IRP, though it was seven years old, as it could not proceed on the basis of a new draft that has yet to be finalised.