Today marks the first boiler pressure test at Medupi coal-fired power station – an event graced by SA President Zuma. Medupi's first unit is expected to start delivering electricity to the national grid by mid-2013.
However, both Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations have been mired in controversy since construction began, amid allegations that Eskom and the South African government ignored water and environmental concerns in pursuit of a World Bank loan for Medupi, numerous labour disputes and strikes, civil society protests, allegations of corruption and delayed timelines.
Medupi may be about to start delivering electricity into the South African grid, but this will come at a huge social, economic and environmental cost, which leaves little to celebrate. Kusile alone will bear the price tag of R60 billion per year that it operates in hidden costs – most of that coming from the water use impacts. Medupi is geared to continue supplying cheap electricity to energy-intensive industry, and will do little to ensure energy access for the 12.3 million South Africans without access to electricity.
It is time for the government and Eskom to rethink the entire electricity paradigm, and begin the just transition away from coal and towards renewable energy and energy efficiency. This is the only sustainable path towards ensuring electricity access for all South Africans.