Eskom power station report kept under wraps over “embarrassing” findings — Energy analysts

An environmental pressure group and energy analysts have raised concerns over the justifications for keeping an independent report into the state of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations under wraps, City Press reports.

German-based VGBE Energy submitted its in-depth assessment of the operational challenges at the 14 power stations to National Treasury in September 2023.

The technical association of energy-plant operators in 34 countries includes experts from RWE Technology International GmbH, STEAG GmbH, KWS Energy Knowledge eG, and Dornier Power and Heat GmbH.

Treasury announced it had requested the report in February 2023. It was a requirement among the numerous conditions finance minister Enoch Godongwana prescribed for providing Eskom with a R247-billion debt bailout.

Despite three Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) requests from the Centre of Environment Rights (CER) and from energy analysts, Eskom and the government have refused to publish the report.

According to Eskom, it could not distribute the report or comment on its contents until National Treasury released it to the public.

Treasury told City Press it would only release the report following consultations with relevant stakeholders.

“Upon receiving the final report from VGBE, the minister of finance commenced with the process of engaging with his cabinet colleagues on the recommendations of the report to agree on the way forward as Eskom is expected to incorporate the findings into its corporate plan for 2024/25 financial year as part of the Eskom Debt Relief operational conditions,” it said.

“Once these consultations have been concluded, the modalities of publication will be finalised.”

Enoch Godongwana, South African Minister of Finance

However, energy analysts who spoke to City Press said the delay in sharing the report was because its contents could embarrass the government and it was therefore not palatable.

One energy expert who preferred to remain anonymous told the publication that one of the report’s recommendations was to shut down some power stations because they would be too costly to revive.

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe and electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa have both expressed support for running Eskom’s old power stations beyond their scheduled decommissioning dates.

In July 2023, Ramokgopa said the government was working on 25 projects to unlock roughly 13,000MW of untapped capacity in existing power stations.

He recently also defended the plan to delay the decommissioning of the old coal plants as part of the Integrated Resource Plan 2023 (IRP 2023)

Mantashe is vehemently supportive of South Africa’s coal industry, and some experts have argued that delaying South Africa’s shift to more renewable energy sources would be detrimental as export economies begin levying punitive carbon taxes.

Solidarity Research Institute head Connie Mulder has accused the minister of doing so because he has vested interests in coal, albeit not directly, but through his links to close associates benefitting from coal mining and transportation.

Gwede Mantashe, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy

The CER said the delay in publishing the VGBE report was particularly concerning because the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy had already released the IRP for public comment.

“Given that the VGBE report would have dealt precisely with this issue, and would provide details on the viability of extending the life of coal in SA, it is important for civil society and the general public to have access to the report so as to make meaningful input and comments on the IRP,” said CER corporate accountability and transparency programme head, Leanne Govindsamy,

Energy expert Yelland said there was no reason for keeping the report secret.

The EE Business Intelligence managing director has been highly critical of the updated IRP, including the idea that Eskom could revive old power stations and improve their performance.

“The plants are old; they need replacing,” Yelland said. “They’re performing poorly; they’ve been neglected, been abused.”

“They are shutting themselves down, they are breaking down themselves.”

Yelland argued that continuing to run the plants would also have additional financial repercussions for the country.

“We will be punished by the international community through cross-border adjustment tariffs for not meeting our carbon dioxide emission reduction targets,” Yelland said.

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Eskom power station report kept under wraps over “embarrassing” findings — Energy analysts