Energy regulator approving emergency power at 'snail's pace' - expert


The National Energy Regulator of South Africa is requesting public input on the procurement of 2 000 MW of emergency power, but arguably the regulator has been acting at a "snail's pace," according to an energy expert.

The energy regulator on Wednesday put out a call for public consultation on the section 34 determinations authorised by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy; which allows municipalities to procure electricity from independent power producers given the country's energy crisis.

In December last year, the country was rocked when ailing power utility Eskom implemented Stage 6 load shedding due to several plant breakdowns, at a time when demand is generally low.

In response to the crisis, during his State of the Nation Address in February, President Cyril Ramaphosa said municipalities in good financial standing would be able to procure power from independent power producers.

While the department of mineral resources and energy had approved the s34 determinations earlier this year, it is still up to the national energy regulatory to concur with it.

But energy expert Chris Yelland has criticised Nersa for delaying the process.

"Nersa is proceeding at a snail's pace," he said. According to Yelland the notices were recently published on the Nersa website is to get public input on the process for the procurement, which should have been figured out long ago.

Fast-tracked consultation

Before Nersa can concur with the department's s34 determinations, it wants to public to issue their comments on the 2 000 MW additional power to be procured for the years 2019 to 2022, as well as the process of procurement of that power. The deadline for comment is 14 April 2020, and this process is expected to take three months.

Nersa said that it is following a fast-tracked consultation process, by only taking into consideration written public comments, and that it will not hold public hearing presentations.

Nersa has also put out a call for submissions on the procurement of energy from sources such as renewables (wind and PV), gas and coal technologies and storage – which have been provided for in the IRP 2019. The deadline for these submissions is 7 May 2020.

The IRP 2019 outlined that new generation capacity of 6 800 MW would be sourced from PV and wind (for the years 2022 and 2024. About 513 MW would be sourced from storage, for the year 2022.

Gas and diesel would source 3 000 MW of energy for the years 2024 to 2027 and 1 500MW is to be generated from coal for the years 2023 to 2027. This consultation process is expected to take six months.

The IRP 2019 was published by Minister Gwede Mantashe in October 2019. "Four-and-a-half months later, still no s34 determination [from Nersa]," Yelland said.

Given that the IRP 2019 had been coming along for five years, it would be expected that Nersa be ready to implement the necessary actions, he explained.

"We have been having load shedding for years. We would think in the meantime, Nersa would have sorted out the process," Yelland said.

"Nersa is part of the problem. They are sitting on their hands, idling, while the country is burning, while we are having load shedding … they should have been prepared for this," he added.

Lack of urgency

UCT Professor Anton Eberhard, who also directs the Power Futures Lab, tweeted that he was "dismayed by the lack of urgency" with which he believes Nersa is treating the situation.

"There was an extensive public consultation process before the optimised IRP electricity plan was finalised and gazetted in October 2019. It is thus puzzling that Nersa has posed a total of 45 questions to the public, many apparently second-guessing the IRP," he said.

Eberhard warned that it could take months before the needed power is procured, as there is now another consultation process that must take place.

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