Hearings on the Delivery of Basic Household Energy Services

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Mineral Resources and Energy

06 November 2002
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

This report is produced by the Contact Trust -

11 NOVEMBER 2002

Mr M Goniwe

The Committee heard presentations by the Young Women's Forum, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Lejweleputswa Enviro Monitoring Group, the Development Action Group, Sustainable Energy Africa, the Energy Technology Unit (Cape Technikon), Energy Research Institute (UCT) and the Environmental Justice Networking Forum. Presentations overall focused on the problems associated with traditional energy sources. Most organisations (e.g. Young Women's Forum, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Lejweleputswa Enviro Monitoring Group, Energy Technology Unit) called for government to explore the renewable energy option more vigorously.

Presentation by the Young Women's Forum

Ms O Moalusi (Founder and Chair of Young Women's Forum)
explained that the main sources of energy in predominantly black urban SA are electricity, gas, firewood, paraffin and coal. People are however sometimes forced to use other forms due to the lack of affordability of the main energy sources.

While energy is used mainly for cooking, lighting and heating in these areas, young women also need it to enable them to study after dark. They also use energy to engage in economic activities. Adequate access to energy frees up much of the time which young women would spend collecting firewood.

The use of energy sources such as lower grade coal, gas and paraffin impacts negatively on the health and safety of the users.

Ms Moalusi made the following recommendations to the Committee:
-Energy must be made accessible to everybody.
-Energy provision for poor people must be subsidised.
-Alternative renewable energy options must be used because they are sustainable and they do not always require poor people to pay out of their pockets

Questions and Discussion

Ms G Mahlangu (Chair of Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism) noted her enthusiasm at the fact that young Historically Disadvantaged South Africans are taking initiative with regard to issues affecting the country. She asked if the organisation only operates in one province.

Ms Moalusi stated that as part of the Environmental Justice Neworking Forum, they are able to reach other provinces. They however do not have the capacity to do so by themselves due to constraints placed on them by lack of funds. The aim is however to reach the entire country and beyond.

Ms Mahlangu stated that she had not heard the Environmental Justice Neworking Forum
mention the Young Women's Forum before. The fact that young people are getting involved in environmental issues is commendable. She suggested that members could assist the organisation to overcome some of its challenges.

Ms E Ngaleka (ANC) referred to the recommendation that energy provision should be subsidised. She asked if Ms Moalusi had any suggestions in this regard.

Ms Moalusi suggested that government should provide a certain amount of electricity for free just as they have done with water.

Ms Ngaleka asked where the organisation got its funding.

Ms Moalusi replied that when workshops are held the organisations obtain funds for these workshops from local shops and from the municipality.

Mr S Louw (ANC) asked if the organisation made contact with any government structures.

Ms Moalusi stated that they had no relationship with government structures. They deal with government via their networks. They however have had no direct contact with government structures.

Mr Ncobo asked what the extent was of their involvment in the rural areas.

Ms Moalusi answered that the organisation does not really focus on rural areas. Urban townships and informal settlements are their main focus areas. These areas use predominantly coal and gas stoves. Informal settlements use coal as well as firewood, which are harmful to the environment.

Mr Ncobo asked if the organisation has held any workshops with people/organisations from whom it can receive guidance.

Ms Moalusi responded that they are assisted by the Sustainable Energy and Climate Change Partnership. This organisation in fact introduced them to energy issues.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) asked if the organisation has interacted with major roleplayers like Eskom on the price of electricity, which is an important issue. He suggested that there was a need for such interaction.

Ms Moalusi agreed that the price of electricity was an important issue. She referred to the fact that the price of electricity is sometimes increased without prior notification. However the organisation has not interacted with Eskom. They were going to attend the Electricity Forum in the West Rand (Carltonville) where input and complaints from that community would be heard. They would then pursue the matter from that point

Presentation by the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee

Ms T Mashota read the presentation document, which in essence stated the following:
- Electricity is so expensive, since government has turned electricity (an important source of energy) into a commodity.
- While South Africa has excellent renewable energy potential ESKOM continues in its wanton destruction of the environment.
- With privatisation many working class people lose access to basic services that become too expensive. It is clear that that the ruling party is making South Africa a haven for the capitalists to make more money.
- In Soweto the major problem has been cut-offs. At first the community demanded a flat rate of R50. Since then they have experienced inconsistent bills that hardly reflected the actual amount of electricity consumed because of ESKOM's mismanagement and corruption. In addition the Soweto community discovered that they were paying more per unit than rich Sandton and big business. Therefore they are now demanding "Free basic services for all", which is in line with government's election promise of "free electricity"
- The concept of "free life line" services is correct but inadequate. 50kWh per household is an insult to poor communities. The SECC is exploring the demand for 1 kWh per person per day free electricity for working class communities
- It is unfair that historically white suburbs were heavily subsidised by the state, thus getting very cheap water, electricity and other basic services.
- Since the days of apartheid the failure to provide working class households with electricity exposes them to health hazards.
- SECC favours a comprehensive electrification programme, instead of the short-sighted pecuniary gain promised by privatisation and profit-making.
- The key aggravating factor behind the government's failures in service delivery is the government's shift from seeing electricity as a basic need and right to the view that electricity is a commodity that must make a profit in each and every community where it is provided. It is the policy of GEAR that provides the macro-economic framework for these anti-worker and anti-poor policies
- A long time before ESKOM gets privatised already poor communities are suffering from its restructuring and preparation for this eventuality. Recent research shows that there has been more electricity cut-offs than new connections in South Africa
- ESKOM paraded itself as a champion of African development during the WSSD whereas its past and present activities as well as future plans have benefited a racist minority. ESKOM's plans to dominate the African continent and thus become a global power in the energy field is only in the interests of an elite within South African society. That this is going to happen under the aegis of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) further exposes the political and moral bankruptcy of this capitalist development plan for Africa. The SECC rejects NEPAD and the capitalist interests it stands for. The profits from the privatisation of ESKOM benefit the few at the expense of the majority of humanity.
- Energy provision should not be left in the hands of the markets. The state must provide safe and renewable energy to all with the aim of redressing past and present inequalities and taking care of our environment

Questions and Discussion

Ms Lesiea (ANC) stated that members too had been revolutionaries. She had however fought for investment in society and not its destruction. The presentation had given no direction.

Ms E Ngaleka (ANC) referred to Ms Mashota's criticism of the fact that there is 'nothing for mahala'. She asked if Ms Mashota was aware that SA had the cheapest electricity in the world. She asked what measuring stick the presenter had used to arrive at the conclusion that electricity prices should drop.

Ms N Cindi (ANC) stated that the presenter had misunderstood the election promises of free electricity. It was not intended that all electricity supply should be free.

Ms Mashota replied that free basic services had been promised in terms of the 1994 elections. The term 'free' means 'at no cost'. It implies that there are no conditions attached.

Ms Ngaleka referred to the presenter's suggestion that Eskom should scrap arrears. She asked who should be left to foot the bill.

Ms Mashota wished to dispel any impressions that the SECC had done nothing but complain about the problems being experienced in Soweto. Residents were being billed incorrectly due to faulty meters. Eskom has in fact admitted to this on a Johannesburg-based radio station. Initially the SECC had negotiated for a flat rate of R50.00. Because this plea had been ignored the organisation has now decided to ask that (a) arrears be scrapped and (b) persons be allowed to pay according to their pockets.

Ms Ngaleka stated that some members are from the townships themselves. They therefore know that there are people who can afford to pay but do not want to. These people hide behind the poor. One needs to differentiate between those who are unable to pay and those who are unwilling. When the ANC assumed power they did in fact scrap the arrears. They could not return to that situation.

Mr E Lucas (IFP) referred to the presenter's allusion to a difference in tariffs being imposed on Eskom's customers in Sandton on the one hand, and the townships on the other. He stated that Ms Mashota's case would be weakened unless she was able to substantiate this point.

Ms Mashota responded that information released by the Municipal Services Projects proves that Soweto pays 44 cents per kWh while Sandton residents pay 77 cents per kWh. She did not know how these figures were affected by the numerous cut-offs, which are taking place.

Mr M Ramodike (UDM) referred to the previous presenter's suggestion that electricity be subsidized. He asked if she did not believe that electricity tariffs could be subsidized if privatization were to occur.

This question received no response.

Mr I Mohamed (ANC) stated that he had a constituency office in Dobsonville. The office is in the same building as Eskom's offices. He assured the Committee as to the accuracy of Ms Mashota's statements with regard to electricity cut-offs in Soweto. There are often long queues of people whose electricity supply had been disconnected. He stated that he had on numerous occasions appealed to Eskom to provide seats for the elderly who had to wait in these long queues. Very often their arrears had been caused by the late receipt of pensions. He had also discussed with Eskom the issue of incorrect meter readings. However one should not ignore the fact that there are also many illegal connections made in the area. Eskom had informed this community that it could not implement differential rates. One of the problems faced by the community had been that the elderly had been unable to afford to settle their bills/arrears. There had been an agreement with Eskom that a part of the backlog would be written off if they agreed to pay the arrears which arose after a certain date. Some households did not abide by the agreement. (Often this was due to their inability to pay). Without associating himself with all the points raised by Ms Mashota, Mr Mohamed stated that she had raised relevant issues relating to problems being experienced in the country. It is important that the free basic electricity grant be rolled out as soon as possible. One should however bear in mind that government is doing excellent work regarding electrification. He thanked Ms Mashota for raising these issues.

The Chair explained that communities needed such forums to raise their views. They had managed to open the lines of communication. This should be done on an ongoing basis. Ms Mashota had however complicated matters by attaching an ideological/political stance to the issues. One should instead focus on dealing with the actual problems being experienced by communities. It was important for the speaker to separate her desire for socialism from the issues at hand, e.g. it would not practical for her, in negotiations with Eskom, to raise the issue of socialism. He reiterated the fact that the speaker should focus on the issues. Not all persons supporting her stance on the electricity issues are socialists. Some may in fact support her call for affordable electricity for the purpose of running their spaza shops. By taking an ideological stance the speaker was therefore limiting herself

Presentation by Development Action Group

Ms Fikiswa Mohote identified the following problems:
(a)The poor spends about 25 % of their disposable income on energy alone
(b)low income households (typical RDP houses) are compelled to high energy consumption
(c)high indoor and outdoor pollution
(d)high level of health risk
(e)unsafe communities/fires/poisoning

With regard to (b), she pointed out that two of the common problems were walls and ceilings with mould, as well as poor ventilation. As opposed to the high energy consumption resulting from these problems, DAG proposed the following energy-efficient measures:
-Use of materials that enhance thermal performance
-Damp proofing
-Natural lighting
-North- facing orientation

Introducing these interventions is beneficial to both the households and the local authorities. There are however challenges, which for which DAG has proposed possible solutions. There is also a focus on knowledge production by offering various courses. (See document for further detail)

Questions and Discussion

Mr P Gomomo (ANC) asked if DAG actually trains people from the townships. It is not enough to merely assist people to have houses built.

Ms Mahota responded that DAG in fact does a skills audit to determine who has building skills. These people are then tested for their level of competency. They are assisted through the Housing Support Centre. They also train supervisors. There are management courses for which the individual does not have to pay.

Mr Lucas asked if it would be possible for members to see how things work on the ground.

Ms Mahote replied that this could be arranged.

Ms Lesiea asked the interest rate was of loans granted by DAG.

Ms Mahote said that the rate was market-related. Thus this served as an incentive for persons to repay the amount in a shorter period. The training provided by the organisation also focuses on teaching people to strive to repay the capital sum borrowed in the shortest possible time. There is an emphasis on teaching people to save. Ms S Ward (Sustainable Energy Africa) stated that an incentive to save is the fact that one is able to borrow thrice the amount that one has saved. If one were making a green intervention then one would in fact be able to borrow four times the amount saved

Presentation by Sustainable Energy Africa

Ms S Ward explained the aim of the Urban SEED Programme was to integrate sustainable energy approaches and practices in urban development in South Africa. To this end they have a national capacity building partnership programme with local and national government and NGOs.

SEED provides various services to its national and provincial partners. These include:
•Salary and demo funds
•Technical support
•Policy briefs
•Information & publicity, and more

SEED's activities include:
-Forming and supporting partnerships
-Building capacity in these organisations
-Promoting networking and information exchange
-Demonstration and implementation
-Public education and training

Parliament will be able to assist the SEED programme by:
- Supporting development of sustainable energy capacity at the local level to enable Local Authorities to meet their obligations
- Ensuring that sustainable energy is part and parcel of all policy and practice - eg housing, Local Authority energy supply and consumption policy
- Promoting interaction and mutual support between national government departments and NGOs

Refer to the document for further detail on the presentation

Questions and Discussion

Mr G Oliphant (ANC) stated that Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) only targeted four local authorities. He asked how this affected their capacity to grow. He also asked what informed them to target these local authorities instead of others.

Ms Ward replied that SEA does in fact work with other local authorities. Lack of funds remain a limiting factor, since SEED advisors would need to be paid. They therefore have to try to make as much impact with as little funds as possible. They have been approached by local authorities, which requested them to expand to their parnerships. However they are unable to do so due to a lack of funds.

Mr Lucas referred to the SEED Urban Programme. He asked if the organisation had any projects in the rural areas.

Ms Ward responded that there had initially been a rural and urban aspect. The rural component had been run by UCT. This programme has progressed more slowly, since they have had more difficulties, e.g. with bureaucracies, as well as the huge distances between various communities. The rural component is still in its first phase, since there is at this point insufficient funding to move onto the second phase. There is however a connection between rural and urban communities, since many urban residents are in fact from the rural areas.

Ms Lesiea asked for an explanation for the figures, which indicated the length of time one would be able to use particular appliances.

Ms Ward replied that instead of the figures being definitive, they had merely been intended to indicate the amount one would pay for using a certain amount of electricity

Presentation by Energy Technology Unit: (Cape Techikon)

Research has indicated that much more should and could be done in South Africa to ensure that we harness our sources of renewable energy more effectively. As a result of ESKOMs major electrification programme of connecting over 26 000 new households to the electricity grid each month, the power supplier's excess capacity stands to be absorbed by the year 2006. It is estimated that in ten years' time there will still be 1.2m people without electricity in SA.Will there be a shortage of electricity, or will it become so expensive that market forces determine who can afford electricity and who not? SA has however, been given a 3-year window of opportunity to position ourselves more realistically in order to meet future energy demands through harnessing, especially wind and solar energy

In order to remove the barriers to the use of RE one has to:
-Combat a bias against renewables. Accurate and comparable information on the true cost of all forms of energy should be determined and disseminated. For years government has assisted coal mines and power stations in various ways. Huge amounts of money are spent on the maintenance of power lines. In addition the environmental impacts of the use of non-renewables should not be ignored.
-Identify and publish the names of those remote and / or rural areas that are unlikely to be connected to the national electricity grid within 10, 20 and 30 years, sot they can resort to alternatives. One should then offer temporary or permanent alternatives of choice to those communities
-Accommodate the private generator / supplier of renewable energy (wind and solar) by assisting him with the storage of his generated electricity. In Germany it is compulsory to generate one's own electricity if one is able to do so.
-Remove (or at least drastically reduce) the taxes, duties and levies on all renewable energy components, equipment and appliances used for bona fide households.
-Repeal all fictitious 'connection fees' levied by many local authorities, whether the resident wishes to be connected to the central electricity supply or not.
-Widely publicise the benefits to be enjoyed by the consumer if renewable energy sources are used. RE cannot do everything, but it can be tailor made to do certain things very well. The solar sewing machine created by the ETU will be able to create many jobs. While testing with instant water heaters did not show a decrease in the amount of electricity used, solar assisted water-heating results in a saving of 40%.

They proposed the following counter-measures:
·Dispel the notion that renewable energy is always more expensive than electricity.
·The removal of import duties on all renewable energy-linked components, equipment and products
·Pass a law (as in some developed countries), which forces the electricity supplier to purchase any electricity generated by anybody wishing to sell his product, rather than having to bear the cost of having to store it independently

Questions and Discussion

A member referred to the interaction between RE and grid (as is the case in Germany).There had been a proposal that the Department and Eskom should look at distributing energy via a computerised centre, in terms of which there would be a give-and-take of the various energy systems.

Prof Uken acknowledged this as being a possibility but added that one has to consider the quality of the electricity which is provided.

The member also asked Prof Uken to explain why solar thermal energy needs the support of the electricity grid supply.

Prof Uken stated that a mindshift change is needed. No one says that solar will ever be able to replace electricity. The term 'pre-heating of water' has been coined. The professor stated that he had a solar system at his home. The system was operated manually. In winter when there is very little sunlight he uses electricity. It is however still possible to pre-heat water during winter since there is still a little sunshine. Thus instead of heating water from 10 degrees celsius or below, it will then get heated from 16 degrees. The expense of purchasing and installing the system gets recouped from the saving which results.

Mr S Louw referred to the estimate that 1.2m people will still be without electricity in ten years' time. He asked if this figure included the rural communities.

Prof Uken answered in the affirmative, adding that these were the figures obtained from a professional market research organisation.

Presentation by the Energy Research Institute (UCT)

Prof Lloyd jokingly stated that a 'pale, grey male' like himself was qualified to speak on the topic of basic household energy since he had spent much of his time in townships conducting research on the issue. He stated that in households which cannot afford electricity or to whom electricity is inaccessable, thermal needs are met by wood and paraffin. In areas close to mines they are met by coal. The average low-income house needs approximately 1000 MJ/month, equivalent to <5kWh per day. After comparing the pro's and con's of each fuel (wood, paraffin, gas, dung and other biomass) he summarised the health problems resulting from the use of these fuels and added that:
- WHO says health problems of these fuels are the 4th most common cause of hastened death in developing countries
- EC estimates suggest average reduction of 15 years in life expectancy due to use of these fuels
- They also result in about 10% of the world's disease and about 12 000 deaths per annum of children under the age of 15 in SA.

Available options:
- Make 5kW cheap electricity available for an hour or so each day
- Enforce rigorous standards for safe paraffin appliances, with subsidy to assist purchase
- Reduce risks of coal by enforcing use of LSF
- Use international LPG experience
- Fix specifications for subsidised housing

- The electricity option is easily the most promising and should be actively pursued.
- The paraffin appliance option seems to costly, & will not stop child deaths, etc.
- LSF work should continue to be supported.
- LPG certainly has promise as a stopgap while wider electrification takes place

Presentation by the Environmental Justice Networking Forum

The presenter stated that the Environmental Justice Networking Forum (EJNF) had been founded in Pietermaritzburg in 1995. Initially they had fallen under the banner of Earthlife Africa. They subscribe to the slogan which states 'politicise ecology, ecologise politics'. The organisation holds a radical view of ecology. They formed an Energy Task Team, which was part of the workshop dealing with the Energy Paper to be presented at the WSSD. He referred the Committee to the document titled 'Clean Energy for SA' and stated that he would not go into detail, since most of its contents had already been raised by previous presenters. He however wished to add to the issue dealing with the safety of various energy sources. He pointed out that no one had mentioned the dangers associated with burning candles for lighting. He proposed a study group focusing on this issue.

He stated that EJNF accords with the views of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee on the issue dealing with the promise of free electricity and the privatisation of the electricity supply. Thus they disagreed with the point made earlier in response to the SECC, which was that they should not drag politics into basic energy issues. EJNF believed that the mixing of politics and basic energy issues was unavoidable, since these issues were giving rise to basic injustices.

Address by the Chairperson
Mr Goniwe stated that it would perhaps be useful to have further hearings in which parastatals and the Department, too were involved. This is especially necessary with regard to the issue of privatisation of Eskom. The privatisation of Eskom may be used as a vehicle for empowerment. This should be done without sacrificing the quality and affordability of its services. This could be placed on the Committee's programme for 2003.

He added that the Portfolio Committee was not a 'glorified debating chamber' but a forum which is supposed to address actual needs of the people.

The Chair thanked Contact Trust for working tirelessly to organise the workshop and to assist NGO's to reach Parliament in order to raise their issues. He thanked the Open Society Foundation for providing funding, which ensured that it was not only civil society organisations with capacity who are able to have their voices heard in Parliament.


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