Mantashe: Creating energy capacity is not like making instant coffee

Government is working to get additional energy capacity, but it won't be rushed because that's how mistakes happen, according to Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe.

The minister was speaking at a briefing on Thursday, based on his remarks during the State of the Nation Address debate held the previous day.

Mantashe said that the department was moving at a "calculated pace" in its endeavours to respond to the energy crisis.

Last year, in response to stage 6 load shedding, the department put out a request for information from potential power suppliers. In his address on Wednesday, Mantashe said that government had received 481 responses, which are being analysed to see which sources can be used to bring emergency power online within the next 24 months. Mantashe reiterated this on Thursday.

"The RFI gives us a sense of who can give us energy within the next 12 month, 24 months. We are digging through a pile of requests, then we will know how to classify them," he said.

His department has also finalised a section 34 determination, which would allow municipalities to procure electricity from independent power producers. The s34 determination is now with the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa), which has to give concurrence, Mantashe said.

'You will fall on your belly'

As for generation of power for self-use, Mantashe said that of the 132 applications received, 75 applications of 42 MW had been approved. There are 18 which are not approved, due to insufficient information and the department is helping these applicants to complete it. "So we are not theorising, we are hard at work," he said.

His remarks come amid a looming legal battle with the City of Cape Town which wants the courts to declare that government allow municipalities to procure power directly from IPPs. The matter is set to be heard in May 2020. But Mantashe said that government will not be rushed.

"You must never be pushed into a situation where you stumble if you think you must run faster than you can, if you do that you will fall on your belly," he said.

"If they want to take us to court, go ahead, let us do our work. But let us do it properly - let us not rush because there is a court case coming.

"Let us do it properly so that there is not a rule for Cape Town, [but so that] there is a rule for the sector," he added.

At SONA last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that municipalities in good financial standing would be able to procure power from IPPs.

Mantashe said that the department is developing regulations for municipalities to procure and develop their own power generation. Mantashe commented that it is not a new concept for municipalities to have their own generation, as Cape Town, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein have been doing so for years. The regulations will open up the space for capable municipalities to do the same.

Mantashe also said the department would not be rushed by renewable energy lobbyists to open bid window 5. He emphasised that the S34 determinations need to first be concurred with by the energy regulator before this bid window can be opened.

Mantashe cautioned that it is a misnomer to think that opening bid window 5 would spell the end of load shedding. He said the department would not cause the renewable IPPs to stumble by forcing them to get energy online by next week.

"We will allow them to build those power stations. Creating energy capacity is not an instant coffee, it’s a long-term plan. If you are going to treat it as instant coffee, you are going to make mistakes," he said.

The minister later will meet with the War Room on energy. Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the War Room would meet, in response to the energy crisis. Mantashe could not give details on the meeting.

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