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ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM AND MINERALS AND ENERGY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEES JOINT MEETING
20 March 2006
NORWEGIAN PARLIAMENTARY STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Chairperson: Mr L Zita (ANC)
Documents handed out:
The Committees had a general discussion with the Norwegian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy and the Environment about issues that concerned the two countries in energy and the environment. These issues included global warming and climate change, alternative and renewable sources of energy, nuclear power, electricity generation, diversity of energy sources and meeting future energy needs.
The Chairperson began the discussion by stating that South Africa had recently hosted the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. South Africa wanted to adopt a progressive approach to the issue of climate change to ensure that the bio-system was maintained. In this regard, the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism had been involved in drafting legislation that advanced this goal.
Mr G Kvassheim, the Chairperson of the Norwegian Committee, said that they dealt with issues of oil and gas, environmental protection, wildlife habitats, land use and regional planning. He asked the Committees what their plans were to increase energy production and what problems South Africa faced.
Mr Zita said that South Africa had an energy mix. South Africa’s energy system was coal-based but this was harmful to the environment, and it was a declining resource. This meant that South Africa had to start thinking of new ways to produce energy as well as developing methods to make coal cleaner and less harmful to the environment. He wanted to hear the Norwegian Committee’s views about nuclear energy, as South Africa was thinking about its increased use in future.
Mr Zita added that the use of hydro-electric energy was another option, but South Africa was a very dry country and would have to rely on countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which had the capacity to power the whole of Southern Africa. Unfortunately, the DRC was unstable and it was unwise to rely exclusively on another country for energy, especially when the recent natural gas fiasco between the Ukraine and Russia was considered. Progress was being made to build a pebble-bed nuclear reactor in Cape Town but cost issues and the problem of securing the waste were important factors.
Mr Zita said that pilot programmes had been launched on the use of solar energy and there was a unit in the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) that was looking into the development of cleaner, renewable sources of energy. The work done in this regard was preliminary, but the cost of solar panels was a worry. South Africa would struggle to produce the volume of energy required by the country from solar sources.
Mr B Brende, the First Deputy Chairperson of the Norwegian Committee, said that nuclear energy was problematic, especially with regards to how the waste was handled. Did South Africa have any plans for the permanent, safe storage of the waste, and were they going to build new power plants?
Mr T Surridge, the Acting Chief Director: Hydrocarbons in the DME re-iterated that South Africa had large reserves of coal that would start running out only in 2050. South Africa was looking at underground gasification as another source of energy as well as the nuclear option. There were no other major sources of energy in South Africa. The pebble-bed nuclear reactor would solve one of the main problems of nuclear energy: it was impossible for such a reactor to melt down. However, the long-term storage of nuclear waste was still a problem and the nuclear unit of the Department was investigating this.
Mr I Kristiansen asked how much the South African Committees discussed the issue of global warming and climate change. Was it high on the political agenda?
Mr Zita said that it was now a central issue in the South African debate. It was mainly the developed world that contributed to the changing climate but everyone had a role to play to reduce emissions. The developed world also had to help Africa to increase its capacity to deal with the problem. In addition, more work had to be done to increase awareness and education about the problem.
Mr Surridge said that South Africa had acceded to the Kyoto Protocol and most of its contribution was through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). South Africa had 23 projects in place and two of them had received awards from the CDM. South Africa was also a member of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, and was very impressed by Norway’s presentation there at the last meeting. They were in the process of implementing some of Norway’s suggestions on carbon-capture and storage. South Africa had a renewable energy target, and a subsidy office had been opened to subsidise renewable energy requirements.
Mr T Aasland asked what timescale South Africa had to meet its future energy demand. Was there enough capacity to produce more electricity?
Mr Zita said that there was a plan to build four more electricity generation plants as a reaction to the growth of the South African economy. There were immediate needs and work was being done on the short-term increase of electricity supply. More clarity was needed from Eskom about the way forward and South Africa’s readiness for the challenges of the future.
Mr E Lucas (IFP) said that it was important to remember the country’s historical background. Many rural areas had no electricity as part of the apartheid government’s policies. Eskom had done exceedingly well since 1994 to improve the rural situation.
Mr O Moe asked how market-based South Africa’s electricity prices were. Building new capacity for electricity generation was very expensive. How was South Africa going to finance it?
Mr Zita said that the Government was committed to providing everyone with electricity. Even if building more capacity was expensive, that cost was not going to be passed onto the consumer. The large reserves of coal would also help the Government subsidise electricity prices. The current Government had no ideological aversion to subsidies.
Mr Surridge said that it was part of the Government’s policy to diversify energy supply. For example, a pipeline was already bringing natural gas from Mozambique to South Africa. They were also looking at importing liquid natural gas. The National Electricity Regulator controlled electricity prices. Plans were afoot to establish a National Energy Regulator to regulate gas pipelines and it would also take over the role of the Electricity Regulator. Eskom had wanted to increase its tariffs but the Regulator had rejected this application. South Africa did not have a power shortage. The problems in Cape Town were caused by damage to the generators at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station.
Mr T Andersen asked what South Africa was doing to improve the ability of its people to access electricity.
Mr Zita said that about 70% of South Africans had access to electricity and those who did not, were located mainly in the rural areas. Government had a commitment to provide electricity to some areas for free. Infrastructure was a problem in rural areas and this was being addressed.
Mr D Oliphant (ANC) said that the lack of electricity in some areas was a result of the policies of the past. Since 1994 a backlog had been created but this was also being addressed.
The meeting was adjourned.
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