Nuclear still part of SA energy mix, says department of energy

Cape Town – Nuclear power will still remain part of South Africa’s energy mix, Parliament has heard.

At a briefing by the Independent Power Producers (IPP) Office to the portfolio committee on energy on Tuesday, Director General of the energy department Thabane Zulu said that it should not come as a surprise that nuclear energy is part of SA's new Integrated Resources Plan, or IRP.

Zulu said that the courts last year raised issues with the implementation of SA's nuclear programme, not its viability within the country's energy mix.

“The matter is legally challenged at the moment. It is not about whether nuclear is part of the energy mix, but rather how to implement it,” he said.

The department is currently working on a “roadmap” for nuclear power in SA, he said. This would take into account legal processes and issues raised during last year's court cases.

When asked by DA MP Gavin Davis if this meant that government would go ahead with nuclear power in future, Zulu said he would not get involved in political matters.

Davis then questioned why new Energy Minister Jeff Radebe and his deputy Thembi Majola had not attended the committee briefing.

Radebe and Majola had both sent their apologies, chair Zukisa Faku confirmed.

The DA called for Radebe, who was named energy minister in late February, to make a decisive announcement about the country's plans for nuclear energy.

Former Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, speaking at a post-budget briefing in February, had said that South Africa could not afford to invest in nuclear energy.

Gigaba said at the time that power utility Eskom had sufficient supply to meet the economy's current energy demands.

He added, however, that SA may have to consider nuclear power again in about 2023 if the economy were to grow strongly.  

Zulu, meanwhile, said on Tuesday the department of energy is set to meet with Radebe to brief him on the IPP so that he can get an understanding of how it is working.

The matter would receive urgent attention, he said.

In February former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown gave Eskom the green light to sign outstanding power purchase agreements with independent power producers. Eskom had delayed the signing of the agreements over financial concerns, Fin24 previously reported.

The department of energy also plans to meet with new Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan to iron out issues around the delayed signing. This meeting should take place before the next meeting with the portfolio committee, said Zulu.

Government is seeking to procure over 30 GW of power from independent producers, the committee heard.

A total of 62 signed IPPs under the renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) have completed construction.

According to the IPP office, they created a combined total of 27 700 construction jobs, and 6 700 operational jobs by the end of December 2017.

The remaining 27 projects, which have not yet been signed off on, will create over 58 400 jobs, mostly during the construction period, the office said.

Another issue raised during the committee briefing was why the revised IRP 2010, approved by Cabinet in December 2017, had not yet been gazetted. 

“We have to look into issues raised. We need to brief our Minister Jeff Radebe and get some guidance,” said Zulu.

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