Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

Alan Seccombe contends that Gwede Mantashe becoming the energy minister in addition to his mineral resources portfolio will significantly boost the prospects of SA’s coal industry (“Gwede Mantashe Backs Coal and Nuclear in SA’s Energy Mix”, June 4). However, Mantashe’s comments as quoted are rather more qualified than the prognosis of your “resources writer” — a designation itself redolent of a 20th century perspective on our economy.

Mantashe’s call for “changing the debate to energy supply security” shows an appreciation for priorities. He acknowledges that keeping coal in the energy mix (beyond our current lock-in through Eskom and Sasol) will be contingent upon finding “clean coal technology”, and this offers zero assurance of “a longer role for coal” that Seccombe infers.

The minister certainly shows more interest in fossil fuels than renewable energy, but if he familiarises himself with the recently expanded wealth of information on our renewable resource endowments (much of it available on his department’s website) that is likely to change. We can hope that he expands his horizons with the expansion of his responsibilities.

The future role of coal in SA’s electricity supply has become clear: it is entirely contingent on how much value Eskom can get out of its existing and under-construction power plants. A coal-friendly minister cannot change that as there is no economic case for new coal-fired plant, even before considering costs for end-of-pipe technologies to make it less dirty (which is why Eskom is allowed to violate air quality standards).

The need to contain electricity price escalation has become a greater priority than deferring the decline of coal mining.

Richard Worthington
Westdene