I am feeling greedy. In the past two weeks we have got not one but two Electricity Regulation Act (ERA) Schedule 2 amendments gazetted.
While awkward for the department of mineral resources & energy — and we can moan about the language and fudge of the first version — we should recognise that in the end, thanks to unstoppable reformist forces overcoming (seemingly) immovable ministerial obstacles, we are in a totally different era for the electricity supply industry now.
For the first time in a long time we are going to see the private sector being allowed to solve SA’s problems of energy security and cost of supply, through deciding its own projects, getting its own funding, and doing all this in a jobs-maximising way that can establish sustainable pipelines of demand that create sustainable localisation opportunities that actually work, unlike the dictat command-and-control views emanating from the department of trade, industry & competition.
The amount of resistance that reformists got to such a step shouldn’t be forgotten. The piles of evidence that were required and nonsensical arguments that had to be rebutted in the past year are testament to a lack of imagination in energy policy-making that is not fit for the future and does not provide for the agile change needed to address the scale of the Just Energy Transition and the role of Eskom within that. The fact that our comrades in Cosatu got it first is still amusing.
This introspection is required because SA has a habit of seal-clapping successes and making them seem like they were easy. We are only taking the first (albeit big) step here in energy reform. This is the beginning, not the end.
The next steps on other reform fronts such as water and visas are deeply challenging and complex, though progress is being made with the water issue. With something like spectrum, change may be impossible in any reasonable amount of time.
The emerging contrasts between policymakers who “get it” and those who don’t is stark and will continue to be problematic in the economic cluster after the reshuffle. Such divides were acutely seen at the end of last month at the Presidential Climate Commission as ministers contradicted each other — some were pragmatic, others off-piste. The split between minister Pravin Gordhan on the positive side and deputy minister David Masondo on the bizarre side, and between minister Barbara Creecy on the positive and minister Gwede Mantashe stuck in the mud, was glaringly obvious.
This matters because dealing with the implications and consequences of the ERA amendment, let alone with the wider Just Energy Transition, is highly complex and cuts across departments. The Presidential Climate Commission is thankfully, strategically, at least starting to box in and paint out guide rails for where the bounds of rationality are in the policy response as we approach COP26.
The great irony of course is that these types of reforms — which the Left seems to show disinterest in — are exactly what is going to expand the tax base over time, and sustainably.
It is crucial to bear this in mind as the arguments rage over the social security green paper and the madcap and unworkable, unaffordable vision it lays out.