Expensive electricity

2009-01-07 00:00

It was reported yesterday that electricity tariffs will rise considerably this year. Most will recall that the same happened last year, and that despite this, 2008 began with blackouts and (fairly) systematic load-shedding. We recall, too, the cause of the chaos: the government’s insistence on distributing electricity to more consumers without having made proper provision for the increased demand. Thanks to improved coal deliveries and adjustments at Koeberg we now have a more or less continuous electricity supply, but we’re at almost full capacity, with the grid stretched thin and buffer margins non-existent.

With the power supply in this parlous state, why are we to be charged more for it? Do the authorities hope that people will be less wasteful if it costs more? That may be so for some domestic consumers, but their consumption is only a fraction of the whole, and increased costs are unlikely to dent the vast power consumption of major industries — those very industries that the government encourages to grow and to prosper. Have the authorities considered the reaction of ordinary people as tariffs spiral upwards, and do they realise that it may increase piracy, already a problem, and a danger, in many informal settlements?

Or do the proposed increases reflect the authorities’ awareness of our knife-edge situation, and are they intended to contribute to the building and commissioning of new power stations and of developing new energy sources? Perhaps. But as South African scientist and energy activist Liz McDaid has stated in a new HSRC publication outlined in a feature article yesterday, the government lacks the political will to develop renewable sources — such as sun and wind — which are abundant and reliable enough to be harnessed to meet all the energy needs of the country. The government, McDaid says, is keen to appear progressive but pursues a “business as usual” agenda, putting up barriers to protect secret and vested interests bent on retaining the destructive and ecologically unfriendly “dirty” power-generating methods of the past.

And so consumers are punished for the government’s lack of foresight and intelligent planning, and punished for its secretive and myopic refusal to face up to the ecological damage caused by its policies and the ecological crisis.

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