Be alert to the risks of legitimising a hollow process for a new electricity IRP

Daily Maverick, Richard Worthington, 13 November, 2017

Imagine that, consistent with recent statements by the new Minister of Energy, an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for electricity is released in the next week or two, with a new generation build plan that mandates nuclear procurement. What would our response be?

For argument’s sake, let’s say the plan is scaled back to no more than half the total previously deemed necessary to achieve the benefits of “fleet procurement” (the 9.6 GW contemplated for a Rosatom contract), as a concession to widespread opposition.

Since there is a requirement for consultation, the minister would need to convene some kind of public engagement. There have been calls from various stakeholders for some kind of summit on energy (or the economy more generally), so even a very hastily convened event might be presented as being responsive to stakeholder concerns, as well as fulfilling requirements for the new IRP to be tabled in Parliament subsequently. What would we do?

Unlike the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) that covers the entire energy system, the requirements for which are explicitly set out in the Energy Act of 2008, the process for seeking common ground on a policy-adjusted plan for the electricity system, before it is tabled for parliamentary approval, is not defined. Determinations by the minister that generation capacity will be procured must, as recently determined by the High Court (Western Cape), be subject to public hearings and Nersa consideration, but the new build plan of the IRP is nevertheless treated as binding…

… However, legitimising a hollow process on an IRP that will set parameters on electricity infrastructure investment for the coming decades carries enormous risk. Like in 2010, we might be assured that it will be regularly updated, but getting this one right – or at the very least ensuring it doesn’t mandate irresponsible procurement and greatly deepen our debt – is imperative for any prospect of reducing poverty and inequality…

he public narrative that we need nuclear power to meet our commitments to climate change mitigation is false, as is clear from work already released in the IRP documentation published for comment a year ago. Robust modelling by several agencies, including the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, shows that an electricity system without nuclear can meet and exceed our emissions reduction commitment at lower cost and with higher employment than when new nuclear is included. The Energy Research Centre modelled scenarios with a range of cost assumptions and even the most optimistic pricing fails to find nuclear power offering net benefits over renewable energy options…

… With a positive objective in mind – an electricity system contributing to the well-being of all South Africans, with a net value that is positive for society as a whole and over time, when full costs and life cycles are assessed – we must be prepared to reject what might be put forward. To do this, stakeholders not accustomed to parading their interests and positioning in public need to consider how to avoid being complicit in legitimising a plan designed to serve the elite, and to start talking about taking a collective stand on electricity and economic prudence.

 

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