Eskom CEO André de Ruyter has slammed critics of the utility's move towards renewables, away from coal, arguing that their arguments are not only illogical, but akin to wanting to keep SA stuck in the "Stone Age".
"When a technology reaches the end of its life, it doesn’t make sense to continue to perpetuate it. The Stone Age didn’t end because of a lack of stones. The mere fact that we have a lot of stones in SA doesn’t mean we should have more stone tools," De Ruyter told Daily Maverick’s The Gathering event in Cape Town on Thursday.
He said just because South Africa had coal did not mean it had to continue to burn it no matter what.
"Our worst solar resources are better than the best solar resources in Germany. Our wind resources are among the best in the world. So to say we are neglecting one resource by going for something that is second-rate, is just not substantiated by the facts.
"The one good thing about the sun and wind is that it cannot be stolen, first of all. It also cannot be exported to China, beneficiated there, and then be sold back to us."
De Ruyter referred to recent arrests at its power stations for coal theft and sabotage. News24 reported that a truck driver was arrested at Eskom’s Camden station on Tuesday for allegedly tampering with coal, just a week after the utility caught a contractor trying to sabotage operations at the same station. Two other drivers were arrested at the same power station while in possession of stolen coal two weeks ago.
De Ruyter pointed out that the arrests were made by private security companies employed by Eskom, not by SAPS.
"We have to do our own investigations, we have to apprehend the suspects, and then finally we hand them over because we don’t have powers of law enforcement.
"But there is a clear challenge in the province of Mpumalanga with organised crime. To pretend that it’s a few isolated incidents is not substantiated by the facts. It all links together in quite sophisticated networks that steal billions of rands from Eskom every year."
Eskom recently secured a €10-million (R180-million) grant from German development bank KfW to set up a renewable energy training facility at Grootvlei coal power station in Mpumalanga. Komati power station, which has already been decommissioned, has secured about R9-billion (in concessional loans and grants) from the World Bank and partners for its repurposing.
The first money from the UK, US, Germany, France and EU - or the International Partners Group - from an initial $8.5-billion pledge to support South Africa's just energy transition, is also expected to flow soon.
De Ruyter said these lenders were concerned about protecting this money from corruption in South Africa.
"When this amount of money enters an economy, of course, especially with the reputation of an entity like Eskom for malfeasance and corruption – there are major concerns," he said.
"From our perspective, from day 1, we have said, we need to ensure that we can demonstrate adequate governance. As far as I am concerned, this is my message to the lenders: that if they want to pay the contractor directly, without the money touching Eskom whatsoever, that would be my preference."
De Ruyter said Eskom needs more policy certainty from government to properly turn the state-owned company around.
"These are very important to investors. If we can give that stability and assurance, then they will come."
He used the example of prohibitive import duties and local content requirements that he said hold Eskom back.
"When you think about what is the greater ill you are trying to cure - are we trying to solve for energy security, for employment, for cleaning up the environment, or are we trying to protect 200 or 300 jobs in local solar panel manufacturers?
"I think we have to weigh up the greater good and rapidly enable us to solve the bigger problem, which is energy security."