A declaration of an ‘energy emergency’ has been touted as a necessary step to “cut through the red tape” and address the electricity crisis. But what exactly does this mean? Which regulations or processes will be bypassed?
When it comes to the Koeberg nuclear plant, one upcoming regulatory requirement and a concern for those advocating for a life extension is getting approval from the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR). The current operating licence expires in July 2024, and without the NNR granting a life extension, this is when the plant will have to be permanently shut down.
To date, things have been going very badly at Koeberg. Incompetence resulted in a R1.1bn penalty recently being charged by Framatome when they arrived to work on refurbishing unit 2, only to find Eskom was not ready for the work to commence. The current outage of unit 2 which began on 18 January 2022, failed to achieve the primary goal which was the replacement of the three steam generators. Despite this, for reasons unknown, the outage was still planned to last five months. That turned into six months, then seven, and now is predicted to be seven and a half months. This has cost the economy tens of billions due to additional and unnecessary load shedding, and has so far cost Eskom at least R2.4bn in unnecessary diesel costs.
Eskom plans to attempt the same work on unit 1 in October, which will remove approximately 1-GW from the grid at a time when the country can least afford it. As the bungling at Koeberg continues, the NNR is about to announce a public consultation process around the decision whether or not to grant the Koeberg life extension. This was planned for “mid-2022” according to previous statements which is a bit unusual in that Eskom has clearly already committed billions of rand to the refurbishment required for a life extension despite regulatory approval not yet being granted.
How meaningful will a public consultation process be when Eskom has already spent tens of billions of Rand based on the assumption the NNR will grant the extension? This is not lost on the NNR, who submitted an Annual Performance Plant to parliament earlier this year which identified “undue pressure to grant the LTO” (Long Term Operation) licence as a serious and unmitigated risk to the organisation.
The constitution and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act are clear that we live in a participatory democracy, and public consultation is a right before an administrative decision is made such as granting a lifetime extension to Koeberg. Such regulatory approvals should not be mere rubber-stamping.
How could this conundrum be resolved? One way would be to use a declaration of an “energy emergency” to simply short circuit the regulatory approval process and omit the public consultation process in the interest of “cutting through red tape”.
This talk of a need to declare an “energy emergency” is at least partly an excuse for past inaction, specifically by Minister Mantashe and the DMRE. We don’t need regulations bypassed, we just need existing processes to be used and fast-tracked where necessary. A self-created “Energy Emergency” cannot be allowed to further erode democratic governance and a rules based society.
The first step which is entirely uncontroversial, universally supported and should be done today is for the Minister to issue a section 34 determination for all of the remaining renewable energy capacity already planned in the Integrated Resource Plan of 2019.