Electricity pylons are seen along the cooling tower of the defunct Orlando Power Station in Soweto. Picture: REUTERS/ SIPHIWE SIBEKO
Electricity pylons are seen along the cooling tower of the defunct Orlando Power Station in Soweto. Picture: REUTERS/ SIPHIWE SIBEKO

Coal-fired electricity generation has gone political the world over, though the reasons differ.

In Australia and Germany the motivation is global warming. In SA it appears to be a serious case of factional infighting. But when commercial banks and private equity companies like BlackRock refuse to further invest in thermal coal assets, the industry globally is already a dead man walking.

Germany has vowed to close its last coal-fired power station in 2038, and it is likely that countries that are still commissioning such stations when others are closing them down will soon be treated in much the same way as SA was at the height of apartheid. The UK media is already trumpeting that SA has higher annual carbon emissions than Britain.

Perhaps Eskom is one Humpty Dumpty that should not be fixed. If SA were to approach the international community and offer to close down one of the world’s biggest coal-fired power stations, Kusile, before it starts up, in return for suitable compensation, the funds could be used to pay off Eskom debt and concentrate on those stations that still have 10 to 15 years of economic life.

Renewable energy could be brought online relatively quickly at little or no capital cost to government, and the remaining power stations retired when their coal costs or maintenance exceed accepted standards.

With SA for once ahead of the wave, Greta Thunberg would sail into Cape Town harbour to congratulate President Cyril Ramaphosa. What could be better than that?

James Cunningham
Camps Bay

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