LETTER: Beware of Eskom and unintended consequences
The 1998 white paper on energy policy is what has led to today’s load-shedding
Kevin Mileham wants a “visionary and sustainable” plan to fix our electricity problems (“After 15 gloomy years, SA urgently needs to flip the switch on its power policy,” January 20).
A good place to start, he says, is the 1998 white paper on energy policy. Good idea, as long as planners remember that the white paper led directly to the load-shedding they are now trying to prevent.
The white paper was full of sensible suggestions, some ignored, others implemented belatedly. It proposed restructuring Eskom’s generation, distribution and transmission operations, which might finally happen this year. It proposed opening electricity generation to independent power producers, as well as competition for Eskom in power supply.
The government liked the competition idea so much that it banned Eskom from building new power stations. This at a time when Eskom had surplus capacity but expected demand to outstrip supply in 2007 if nothing was done. If the government hoped private-sector funders would rush in to fill the gap, they were mistaken — investors could see that an expensive new power station could not compete with the low costs of Eskom’s installed power plants.
So nothing happened, and by 2004 panic set in. The government hastily reversed its halt to Eskom’s building plans, resulting in the rushed design and construction of the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations. The flaws still haunt us today.
The new build came too late to prevent disaster. By 2007, as Eskom had predicted, demand exceeded supply and load-shedding hit SA. Later that year, then-president Thabo Mbeki apologised for the delay, saying: “Eskom was right, and we were wrong”.
Revisit the 1998 white paper, yes — renewable power is now cheap — but be painfully aware of the law of unintended consequences.
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