Brian Molefe. Picture: ROBBIE TSHABALALA

Brian Molefe. Picture: ROBBIE TSHABALALA

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I have always believed that apologies are redemptive. Last Thursday, trying to be too clever, I wrote a suggestion for a Tweet headline about some insults Brian Molefe, the CEO of Eskom, had thrown at Andrew Canter, the CEO of Futuregrowth. My tweet suggestion was picked up and, to be honest, the moment I saw it on Twitter I knew I had crossed a line. It was rude and uncouth and personal, crossing way too many lines. We argue a lot about everything here in SA and I would like to think I am able to fight my case without getting dirty. So I apologise to Mr Molefe for the headline on the tweet, and to readers of this column for the lapse in judgment. “Bruce Breaks Wind” was an actual print headline used about me in the Mail & Guardian’s editorial columns years ago. I still remember it hurt like hell.

Anyway, Molefe and I carry on an idle and not very good-natured conversation on WhatsApp from time to time. Much of it is about the Guptas and Eskom but at heart Molefe and his chief of power generation, Matshela Koko are engaged in a very long game. It isn’t about supplying baseload power to South African industry. It is about Eskom supplying baseload power to the economy. The risk to Eskom, however powerful it may now seem, is that the future and technology and politics could render it irrelevant. It simply has to be broken up at some stage so that what gets onto the grid is chosen by someone other than Eskom. President Jacob Zuma can have a generation of black industrialists or he can have Eskom in its current form. He can’t have both. As it is, Molefe’s insistence that he will not buy any more power from new renewable sources like wind and solar has put him at odds with just too many people in government. Zuma allowed his industrial ministers to tie their colours to the mast not only of renewable energy but to making SA a centre of renewable energy technology manufacturing. As Western Cape premier Helen Zille points out in Business Day today, Molefe’s stance has already persuaded one foreign investor to leave the country: Evidence against nuclear raises doubt about process.

Zille is entitled to enter this debate and to be robust about the way she does it. Koeberg, SA’s only nuclear facility, sits on the coast just outside Cape Town. A second plant, if it is ever built, would go up next door, in the province she runs. My own view is that we do need more nuclear but that plans to buy 9,600MW are just ridiculously expensive. A month or so ago Molefe sent me this article, written by Rob Jeffrey, MD of Econometrix. It was soon after the initial fuss Molefe caused with his stand on renewables. He liked the article because it basically backed him on renewables, and the fact that they don’t supply power when you need it, which makes them expensive. But I doubt he would have enjoyed the second half of the piece. That is when it comes to the logical conclusion that yes, for baseload we need a little more nuclear (say 3,000MW at most) and lots more clean technology coal-fired power (the coal being our own natural resource). Also, it makes no sense keeping Eskom as a monopoly over generation, transmission and distribution. The introduction of independent power producers (IPPs) in the future is vital, the author of Molefe’s article argues, and that cannot happen while Eskom decides who does and who doesn’t get access to its transmission lines. So it will have to be broken up at some stage. Here’s the piece. It’s long but I agree with Molefe, it’s very good: Rob Jeffrey: Renewables not SA’s panacea – time to put country first.

By Friday this week, energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson will publicly call for proposals for a nuclear deal, and then we may begin to see the outline of what we are in for, or what our children are in for. I don’t think we’ll get close to the 9,600MW we’ve been led to believe. Eskom has applied for environmental clearances at only two of the original three sites — one near Koeberg, another (stupidly, given that Coega port is basically empty) at Cape St Francis, leaving out a third site at Bantamsklip near Gansbaai. Here Matshela Koko argues in Business Day that Eskom will in a few years have saved enough money to fund the nuclear programme itself! You see what I mean about Eskom not wanting to be left behind. His numbers, especially the claim that Eskom could produce nuclear power at R1/kWh were roundly rubbished by experts in the weekend media: Eskom will follow Koeberg’s design-for-cost algorithm.

Finally, I thought the City Press lead yesterday was pretty scary and shows how the ANC might start to behave as it begins to lose power: ANC at war with IEC.