Community and faith leaders, as well as pensioners and residents, have called on the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to oppose Eskom’s request for a tariff hike, with a projected overall increase of 45% to 2021.
“If granted, this price increase will severely impact on all consumers of electricity across the country, many of whom are already struggling to pay their daily bills,” said the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) in its submission.
Eskom has presented its case at public hearings in Cape Town this week. This follows its application to Nersa last year for a 15% tariff increase each year for the next three years. The struggling utility has also applied to the regulator to recover losses made in the 2016/17 year.
Safcei’s Eco-Justice lead Liz McDaid said people were already battling to afford to pay for electricity.
“I know of households where the electric stove is now an ornament. People are using kettles to boil water, or are using paraffin to cook,” she told the Nersa panel.
Her sentiments were echoed by residents from communities in and around Cape Town.
"The increase from Eskom will have a negative impact on the poorest of the poor. The standard of living will be worsened. The cost of living will be unbearable,” said Joyce Malebu, a pensioner from Gugulethu, who said R20 was not enough to power a fridge, stove and lights for more than two hours.
Community members said many pensioners spent much of their grant money on electricity.
Community and faith-based organisations and individuals believe communities should not have to bear the brunt of energy increases every year.
“We think Eskom has failed the majority of South Africans. We don’t have an energy utility that enables the economy. We have a black hole that is taking in money and slowly dragging the country down,” said McDaid, who is well known for working with fellow grassroots activist Makoma Lekalakala to stop the South African government’s nuclear deal with Russia.
Together with other organisations, Safcei has raised the need to restructure Eskom in sync with a global shift towards renewable energy.
“We feel Eskom is already stranded in terms of a utility in the world going forward in energy. It is out of alignment and something drastic is needed,” said McDaid.
She said Eskom should not rely so heavily on boosting electricity sales, which have slowed down within municipalities and industry.
Safcei has called on Eskom to analyse Eskom data comparing renewables and coal. “Where you have inefficient and polluting power stations, they need to be closed.”
It has called for a just transition for coal workers, as well as moves to integrate storage into the grid.
The public hearings will continue in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, and onwards to Durban later in the week. Hearings will also be held in Bloemfontein, Nelspruit, Rustenburg and Soweto and will end in Midrand on February 4. The January 21 hearings that had been scheduled for Kimberley and Polokwane have been cancelled due to low public interest in presenting, Nersa said in a statement.