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Includes 'important' nuclear in SA's electricity mix, says Parly committee



The energy portfolio committee has come out in strong support of including nuclear power in South Africa's future electricity mix.

This is in stark contrast to the latest Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2018 – which contains no nuclear power because of its high cost.

In a report sent to the Department of Energy on Wednesday, the energy portfolio committee recommended that the IRP should "make it explicit that both coal and nuclear will remain important elements of South Africa's energy mix."

The draft IRP, based on a "least-cost" scenario for South Africa's future electricity mix, ruled out expensive nuclear power – at least until 2030.

However, the Energy Committee states in its report: "There is no persuasive argument to counter the proposition that nuclear technology remains the cleanest, safest and, in the long run, the cheapest technology."

Nuclear 'no longer competitive'

Asked to comment, Professor Harald Winkler, head of UCT's Energy Research Center, said, along with all credible modeling in South Africa and South Africa, the draft IRP had excluded nuclear power and new coal plants from the "least-cost" .

"Nuclear is no longer competitive and nor is coal," Winkler said.

The IRP's Department of Energy puts renewable energy and gas as the least-cost electricity mix for new power plants.

The committee compiled its report after holding public hearings in October on the draft IRP.

UCT's Energy Research Center was part of the public submissions and provided evidence based on research.

The parliamentary committee's process was separate from the Department of Energy's process, which had invited the public to submit written comments on the draft IRP by October 26.

The IRP is expected to be finalized early next year.

Criticism

The committee's report has drawn criticism for appearing to take information provided by lobby groups as a fact, and for a bias toward coal and nuclear.

Liz McDaid of the SA Faith Communities' Environmental Institute (Safcei) said she had given the committee a report compiled by an international energy policy expert who provided fact-based evidence, specifically on the high cost of nuclear globally. She said there was no way the committee could claim that the nuclear cost the least, based on evidence.

"I hope the DoE will review the committee's report based on its substance, not on the wishes of politicians." They were the same MPs who oversaw the nuclear deal, but they failed, "McDaid said.

The nuclear deal with Russia and other countries, which Parliament had approved, was found to be illegal in 2017 by the Western Cape High Court and set aside.

Richard Halsey of Project 90×2030, who made submissions, described the report's statement that nuclear was the cheapest in the long term as "absurd."

"They have to explain that this is an opinion, and not a representative of the public hearings," said Halsey.

The CSIR, which also made submissions to the portfolio committee, told MPs that both CSIR's and the Department of Energy's modeling supported renewable energy with gas as the cheapest electricity options for new power.

The CSIR, like the DoE, said neither nuclear nor coal was a "cost-optimal" solution.

Brenda Martin, CEO of the SA Wind Energy Association, said the committee's report had failed to show that the renewable energy sector was "four times more employment-intensive" than the coal or nuclear sector.

The draft IRP includes 1000MW of new coal-fired power plants to be built by the private sector as part of the Government's Independent Power Producers' (IPP) program.

'Favouring' lobby groups

Robyn Hugo, a lawyer for the Center for Environmental Rights, who opposed the inclusion of new coal power plants in the draft IRP, said their opposition was based on studies that assessed the merits of coal plants versus alternatives.

"But the committee seems to have chosen to favor the views of lobby groups, including a coal technology provider to one of the coal IPPs, and their unverified claims on job creation, to support the inclusion in IRP of these unnecessary and expensive plants that will raise electricity costs by R23bn and more, "Hugo said.

However, the report has drawn up support for many of its recommendations, including that the IRP should be finalized in this financial year to promote policy certainty; that the IRP should be reviewed every two years; that the Integrated Energy Plan and the Gas Utilisation Master Plan should be expedited; that the IRP focuses more on developing local industries and remains flexible so that it can respond to new technologies in a rapidly changing energy environment; and that it includes local government in the IRP planning process and increases the allocation for embedded solar power generation from 200MW to at least 500MW.

Many contributors to the committee said in their presentations that it was necessary to ensure a shift away from fossil fuels to renewable energy in order to reduce the impact on those in the coal and coal mining cities . This would include re-training of coal workers so they could be employed in the renewable sector.

The Committee recommended in its report that the DoE should have a "national dialogue on Just Energy Transition" which should focus on communities that will be affected by the move away from coal.

It also recommended that Energy Minister Jeff Radebe convene an energy summit to discuss the energy future for South Africa.

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