The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) has defended the industry’s job creation potential.
This comes ahead of a peaceful march by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which is planned for November 17, to protest potential job losses in the coal-fired power generation sector as a result of South Africa’s plans to increase its use of renewable energy sources.
The Department of Energy (DoE) recently confirmed that the renewable energy sector is currently four times more employment-intensive than the country’s coal and nuclear sectors.
“During construction thus far, employment for 30 405 job years has been created by the country’s renewable energy sector as a whole, with the wind industry contributing about one-third of these jobs,” explained SAWEA CEO Brenda Martin.
The industry body says it is transparent about the fact that the lion’s share of employment opportunities are created within the construction phase, with a timeframe of typically two years per project, but points out that, while the power plant operations phase offers fewer employment opportunities, they do add up.
“The full portfolio of 36 preferred bidder wind projects, procured to date, are expected to generate 32 138 job years, over their 20-year operational period,” Martin added.
Steel, concrete, copper, fiberglass, adhesive, core and other input materials are needed to manufacture wind turbines, with potential job creation opportunities in these related sectors.
SAWEA stated that the countries that boast consistent utility-scale wind energy installed capacities are also the countries that boast a large job-intensive wind turbine manufacturing industry market share.
Two further areas of significant job-creation potential within the wind power value chain are transport and construction.
“In national policy and planning, most of South Africa’s existing coal power plants are scheduled to retire by 2050, when they reach their end-of-life. Aligned with this, and as numerous Eskom annual reports will confirm, the utility has been planning coal-fired power station retirements for many years, so to pin job losses on the renewable energy sector, is inaccurate,” Martin lamented.
However, the statement warned that the energy transition in South Africa needs to be managed with much more care by all social partners.
“As owners and operators of coal-fired power stations, Eskom and its coal suppliers should take primary responsibility for ensuring social plans are in place to address the consequences of plant and mine closures.
“SAWEA has recently adopted an industry commitment statement which sets out the industry’s commitment within the energy transition. A managed transition is essential to ensure that negative effects, particularly on people, are minimized,” she said.
Earlier this week, the NUM said in a separate statement that it does not support what is currently happening at Eskom and that the union is “vehemently opposed” to the DoE’s signing of 27 independent power producer (IPP) agreements, retrenchments, Eskom’s privatisation, as well as the closure of power stations and coal mines.
The union argued that while it was not against renewable energy or IPPs, it remained “extremely worried” about the thousands of jobs that are going to be lost in Mpumalanga.
“The most painful thing is that the renewable energy produced by the IPPs is going to be sold through Eskom. We are saying and we have said that Eskom is a government entity, if the IPPs have got power to generate, let them stand alone and compete with Eskom. The NUM is going to defend these jobs.”
With regard to the retrenchments, the NUM said Eskom, among some of its measures to remedy the financial situation, had resorted to cutting jobs rather than solving its real challenges.
The union argued that, with Eskom owed more than R13-billion by municipalities, “Eskom workers produced electricity that was meant to be sold and it has now been donated for free to these municipalities as a charity case”.
“If the municipalities were to pay their outstanding debt alone, Eskom would have reported positive profits of at least R10-billion in the last financial year and there would not be any talks of bloating and restructuring,” the NUM said.
The union also believes that the current discussion about coal being dirty is mischievous, disingenuous and aimed at creating space and providing a fictitious rationale for the renewables sector.
The discussion that is supposed to be had, it explained, is how best to exploit technologies and spend time on more research on clean coal technologies.
“We cannot talk about decommissioning coal-fired power stations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions while we continue to mine the coal and export it to other countries to run their own coal-fired power stations and contaminate the very same atmosphere that we are claiming to save,” the union added, noting that coal mining companies must start investing in clean coal technology to deal with the issue of emissions.