THE Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei) shares the government and Eskom’s commitment to service the energy needs of the country and the poor in particular. We therefore find the growing emphasis on and commitment to nuclear energy incomprehensible on economic and moral grounds.

Following Eskom’s revelations to Parliament at the end of last month, Safcei believes that, financially, we cannot afford nuclear energy and calls on the Cabinet to abolish the nuclear focus and expand its renewable energy programme.

According to Eskom, 60% of our power stations are older than the recommended design age of 30 years, resulting in increased breakdowns and need for maintenance.

Life extensions and environmental retrofits will require between R50bn and R260bn. Eskom is looking to claw back additional revenue through more electricity tariff increases. Yet poor communities struggle to afford electricity right now.

According to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, we will find additional finances to build new nuclear energy plants. Given that the cost of nuclear has been put at R1-trillion, who will provide the money?

By contrast, globally, a record of 39GW of new solar photovoltaic capacity was installed last year, which required less financing than in 2012, when only 31GW was deployed. In South Africa, renewable energy plants have added 1,300MW to the grid in just less than two years (with a further 1,200MW expected by end of next year.).

As people of faith, we express our deep concern that our public policies are not in line with the best options for preserving our natural environment, saving energy and alleviating poverty. Safcei believes therefore that there is an ethical imperative to expand renewable energy, which is cheaper to build, has zero fuel costs and can provide sustainable, affordable energy for the people of South Africa.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown says she is hoping to appoint a CEO for Eskom in the next few weeks. If the government is serious about addressing the Eskom crisis, it needs to direct the utility to abandon 19th-century thinking and catch up with the 21st century.

We therefore call on Ms Brown to appoint someone who can consider the long-term energy needs of the country. Appointing a renewable energy expert as a CEO would be a good first step.

Liz McDaid
Safcei energy and climate change programme co-ordinator