Friday, 24 February 2012

Energy control to the people!

Bobby Peek
Electricity pricing is a contentious issue in South Africa.  Just reflect on the very many demonstrations and arrests of people at the National Energy Regulator of South African (NERSA) hearings in early 2010. Once again NERSA will have to prepare itself for another round of consultations with the public, as it proposes the next multi-year price increase in electricity. Will people be more organised and forceful to demand that the pricing of electricity responds to the needs of people – more than 2.5 million homes do not have electricity – rather than the needs of corporate giants such as BHP Billiton, which we all know probably receives the cheapest electricity in the world at their plants in Richards Bay, South Africa and Maputo, Mozambique?

I hope so.

Is the writing on the wall for BHP Billiton? I am not too sure, and they have a strategy to keep the cheap electricity flowing.  Due to strong local and global resistance by communities and NGOs to Eskom’s proposed Medupi and Kusile plants, it is unlikely that SA will build more coal fired power strations. Thus, the days of cheap electricity are over. BHP is well prepared for this next round of public debates.  There are rumours going around that BHP is planning to withdraw from SA. They have just announced that they are no longer interested in developing the Inga Three dam hydro project – which should be a relief for poor Congolese who would have had to live with the negative externalities of this dam – and they have sold their 37% interest in the South African titanium industry to Rio Tinto. The South African rumour – if indeed it is truthful – might be good for SA society as we would not have an electricity challenge of giving away 11% of all our electricity produced at below cost prices to BHP. The question to ask oneself is will the rumour have traction during the debates on the next multi-year pricing.

If we leave the electricity pricing regime up to Kloppers, Director of BHP, and the government, we as South Africans could be in for a shock.  Noting the very vocal civil society presence at the last NERSA hearings, government is preparing themselves for this already. 

How are they doing it? 

By just nixing the NERSA.  Who needs a process that facilitates public input officially to constitutionally air their grievances?  Certainly not Kloppers and the South African cabinet!  Earthlife Africa, Johannesburg in a recent press statement responding to the amendments to the NERSA Amendment Bill and the Electricity Regulation Second Amendment Bill, warns that these Bills will make NERSA powerless as a institution where the public has some role of engagement. It gives the Minister of Energy all power and decision making on tariff increases, without subjection “to democratic oversight”.  Bloody scary.  Just what Kloppers would want.  Are these Bills written in the way that they are by chance?  Don’t fool yourself.

But resistance is brewing, and not only in the ranks of the known environmental justice sector, but in the union sector as well.  The National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), who is one of the main organising unions at BHP Billiton’s South African plants are taking the issue of the restructuring of the energy sector on with gusto.  In a gathering of NUMSA representatives and international delegates in early February, NUMSA considered the agenda of “Envisioning a Socially-Owned Renewable Energy Sector”.  We cannot have a paradigm of ownership of future energy reflecting the status quo.  But we also need to start, by changing the status quo, as well as changing the control and ownership of the present means of energy production.

We cannot have our new renewable energy processes owned by multi-national organisations such as Shell and BP, or other profit seeking energy companies, for then the social injustices of the Niger Delta, Nigeria and County Mayo, Ireland hyperlink to] will become common place for people living on lands which have high wind and high degrees of sunshine, which invariably are marginal lands, where people live sustainably. There will be new land grabs and more bloodshed all in the name of ‘energy security’.

I hope ... I hope for a socially-owned renewable energy sector and energy sovereignty that results in a peoples’ energy reality, a system where people take control over their own energy provision.  As in the case of the Nyeleni Declaration on food sovereignty, energy sovereignty should put those “who produce, distribute and consume” energy at the heart of the energy systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations.
We do not need a BHP Billiton energy paradigm.

Ask NUMSA, they will tell you ...

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post as it provides so much information and really going to help for Commercial electricity in daily life.Thanks for such a wonderful post.