Hiding your light under a bushel

By JP Landman

From a news flow and publicity point of view, an extraordinary thing happened in December 2019.

The last cabinet meeting of the year was on Friday 13 December. That was also the week of stage 6 load shedding and when the president said there will be no load shedding before 13 January 2020. The normal post-cabinet news conference, where (some) details are given of what cabinet discussed, took place on Tuesday 17 December. At that news conference the only news on Eskom was that the cabinet had asked if André de Ruyter could start earlier than 15 January. (He started on Christmas day with visits to Eskom power stations.) I read the news in disbelief. Was that the best cabinet could come up with, given stage 6 load shedding?

Then on Wednesday 18 December the president, under his own name, published an opinion piece in the Daily Maverick setting out in full what cabinet had decided about the energy crisis. I reprint it below word for word so that you can draw your own conclusions. For me it was a very clear and powerful statement of where government is going with Eskom in particular, and energy in general.

Here is the extraordinary thing: NO other news outlet carried this announcement by the president. Not the Business Day, not the Financial Times, not News24, not Netwerk24 (normally quite sharp in picking things up), not the SABC … nobody! If I missed this anywhere and it was published elsewhere, please let me know. A senior Business Day journalist referred to it in a tweet, describing it as ‘the first positive sign in ages that Cyril Ramaphosa (is) in control’, but not a word in Business Day itself. Talk about hiding a light under a bushel … most extraordinary.

The Eskom saga has now spun so out of control that rational discussion is almost impossible. Speculation, conjecture, dark theories, even darker predictions, and fake news are all presented with the certainty of the newly converted. It may be more helpful to read what the president said his cabinet decided.

SO WHAT? (from the president’s note that follows) 
  • Energy users will be allowed to generate power for their own use.  The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy and the National Energy Regulator are fast-tracking applications for industry and business to produce and use their own electricity. Government is determined to remove the bureaucratic constraints from self-generation.

  • The purchase of power from independent producers will be accelerated. 

  • Renewable energy projects currently under construction as part of bid window 4 are being connected to the grid earlier than planned. This should bring extra capacity into the system in the first half of 2020. 
  • For the short term, government has launched a power purchase programme, which will prioritise power projects that can deliver power into the grid in the shortest possible time − between three to six months from approval. (Return date is 31 January 2020.) This is where so-called ‘power ships’ fit in.

  • An immediate priority is the establishment of a new transmission entity, wholly owned by Eskom, that can buy power from a range of sources (a long-standing ANC resolution that was ignored under Zuma).

These decisions by cabinet confirm the conclusion in our December newsletter that the next big frontier in investment in South Africa will be energy – wind, solar and gas. We stand by that call.