Electricity Crisis Conference Declaration

We, as representatives of trade unions that organise in the energy sector and delegates from communities that are struggling around outages, load shedding, high electricity prices and poor quality of energy services, met for four days (from 02 to 05 June 2015) in the midst of what we consider as a far-reaching electricity crisis in our country.
As we met, on the table of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) is an application by South Africa’s electricity utility – Eskom – for a 25.3% increase in the price of electricity for the year 2015/16 to 2017/18.
As we met, Nersa had agreed to grant municipalities an above-inflation increase of 12.2% from 01 July 2015 and that nine municipalities were applying for average increases above the Nersa increase guideline of 12.2%.
We also gathered when delegates at this conference from two municipalities were unsure whether they will reach their homes at the end of our deliberations still with some power, as Eskom threatened to plunge into darkness their defaulting municipalities today.
The electricity crises that face us worsen with each day that passes. The crisis is multipronged. It is a supply crisis and chronic load-shedding.
What we see is a financial meltdown of Eskom; massive cost and time overruns in the build programme of new power plants such Medupi and Kusile; and a worsening governance practices within Eskom as executives come and go, leaving with millions of Rands as golden handshakes.
We have also seen the downgrading of Eskom within capital markets and a ballooning debt for the utility as municipalities fail to pay their bills to Eskom.
As delegates to this Electricity Crisis Conference, we are enthused that our people are refusing to shoulder the implications and consequences of the crises.
Throughout the four days, we heard of gallant battles against unaffordable electricity increases and imposition of prepaid meters that are being waged in different communities who refuse to have the burden of the electricity crises shifted onto them. At the forefront of these battles are women who unfortunately still bear the brunt of reproductive activities in our society.
Our people realise that the electricity crises directly affects their children’s ability to learn and to be taught as schools are cut off. Our people realise that as most of their staple diets are electricity intensive, tariff hikes increase food hunger in South Africa. They know that an increase in the price of electricity will lead to retrenchments and short-time for workers.
Electricity crisis calls for a judicial commission of enquiry.
Conference is in full agreement that the electricity sector is very a sick sector. Financially, between now and 2018, Eskom has a R200bn budget shortfall. The country’s distribution grid infrastructure has maintenance and refurbishment backlog of between R35 and R50-bilion.
Eskom’s energy availability factor has dropped from 82 % to about 74 %. Lack of proper maintenance and the age of existing fleet, has led to an increase in unplanned breakdowns of Eskom power stations. But more serious is the coal shortfall.
A recently released Eskom Corporate Plan for 2015/16 to 2019/20 acknowledges that the current mining of coal will not meet the growing demand. Although in 2009 there was talk of opening up to 40 new collieries to supply Eskom, the electricity utility will face a 17-million tonne coal shortfall by 2017 at its coal-fired power plants.
The shortfall is anticipated in 2015 at the Matla, Tutuka and Hendrina power stations and in 2016 at the Kriel and Arnot Power Stations. The price of coal is a very large input cost in electricity generation, costing around R50-billion a year.
The delays in delivering on the new build programme such as Medupi and Kusile is a further sign of how sick South Africa’s electricity supply industry is. The whole new build programme has been characterised by cost and time overruns. While the Medupi tender came in, it was R32-billion.
It was ratified by the Eskom Board at R91-billion. Presently cost escalations are reported to be about R300-billion and the power station that was meant to come on stream in 2011 is four years late. The costs for Kusile are unknown.
Conference believes that a judicial commission of enquiry is required to investigate these delays and cost overruns. The commission must also investigate contracts and tenders that Eskom management has entered into with contractors; senior management packages and remuneration; the voluntary retirement packages; and the relationship between consultants and Eskom employees.
Forming part of the terms of reference of the judicial commission enquiry must be the conditions and impact of loans that Eskom receives from capital markets.
The Eskom crisis affects the whole country. It needs a full judicial enquiry with powers to subpoena people and force them to appear. Something based on voluntary appearances only is not strong enough.
The electricity crisis calls for a transition to a low-carbon economy and the dismantling of the Minerals-Energy Complex.
The inevitability of load shedding as Eskom plans to shut off several power stations for general maintenance as well as the utility’s curtailment and load shedding programmes have clearly focused minds on the nature of energy futures that we seek and the role of Eskom in such scenarios.
South Africa’s economy historically has been dependent on coal and other fossil-fuels. It also has been dependent on minerals and other energy intensive sectors. Energy was produced to feed these sectors. The electricity crisis poses the opportunity to mitigate against global warming and  move away from fossil fuel to renewable energy.
We need a fundamental just transition – which is a plan for how we move away from an electricity system based on coal-generated plants to a more sustainable electricity system which relies on renewable energy. The effects of coal on the health of our communities and our environment are incalculable. It is time for a fundamental transition to an ecologically sustainable.
The renewable energy sector that we are demanding must be socially-owned; meaning a mix of publicly-owned energy entities, energy co-operatives, community-owned enterprises and municipal-owned energy entities.
Conference proposes the exploration of setting up a publicly-owned renewable energy utility, separate from Eskom. Eskom must not be granted exemptions from air quality standards set by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The electricity crisis calls for de-corporatisation of Eskom and putting the electricity utility under real public control.
Since the corporatisation of Eskom, the country’s electricity utility acts as a private company despite being a state-owned entity. De-corporatisation is required, such that Eskom is not market-driven or required to generate profits. De-corporatisation should include repealing parts of the Eskom Conversion Act of 2001 and that the board of directors is replaced by National Electricity Council including stakeholders such as customers, communities and workers.
We also need a different vision of Eskom. We need an Eskom people-centred planning, public participation, public ethos, financial and environmental sustainable practices, solidarity between providers and users; coordination between different services; decent jobs; quality of the workplace; transparency; accountability; good quality of service and commitment to renewable energy and eco-friendly energy.
We need to mobilise and educate society around our vision of a transformed Eskom and why a transformed Eskom is necessary.
The brunt of load shedding must not be borne by the working class and ordinary people.
Load shedding reflects discrimination and shows lack of genuine forward planning. It has a particularly heavy impact on women (especially those in women headed households) because they are traditionally responsible for household care and spend the bulk of their income on energy.
Another important thing that we will have to do is the mapping of both the impacts on load shedding for different classes, sectors and geographical locations, as well as the mapping of where electricity related struggles are occurring. It will be important to develop solutions that avoid conflict within the working class, especially between communities struggling over electricity pricing, metering and disconnections, and Eskom workers themselves. We aim to build a worker-community alliance that is made up of, and able to speak to, victims of pollution, to people with little or no access to electricity, to communities who are not currently heard.
In the short term we demand:
• The democratization of the process of making decisions about load-shedding.  Community reps and worker reps must be involved when decisions are made about how and when and where load shedding happens.
• Exemption essential public services like hospitals, clinics, commuter rail, schools, mortuaries etc. from load-shedding
• The historical beneficiaries of electricity, and the big consumers of electricity should face a higher burden of load-shedding than the working class.
• No workers wages or working conditions should be affected by load shedding.
• Load shedding is an opportunity to raise awareness about the bigger electricity problems that exist and interventions that need to be made.
Conference says No to privatization and the Nuclear Procurement!
Privatisation or selling off pieces of Eskom is not acceptable; the utility must be publicly owned and be managed to serve the public interest.
Reject the cutting-off of municipalities as a way of collecting debt from municipalities.
The pursuit of nuclear procurement is a distraction from and a barrier to addressing the electricity crisis.
50kWh of Free Basic Electricity have proved inadequate for most households.
Although there has been massive connections in the early 1990s, between 10% and 15% of households are still not connected. The Free Basic Electricity (FBE) that is presently is provided is inadequate and fragmented. A big concern is the fragmented nature of the FBE, which is 50KWh in some places and 100 KWh in others. Actually, to increase FBE to 200 KWh would not require much extra electricity, just 17% of Medupi’s capacity. This can become a big issue in the run up to the 2016 local elections.
Conference agrees that possibilities exist for making FBE go further than it currently goes, through substantially reducing household electricity demand through a massive, rapid, and high quality, roll-out of Solar Water Heaters in working class and poor communities.
Conference agrees that the FBE must be increased and standardised and this be put to local governments before the 2016 local government elections.
Financing Eskom:
There are a number of cost drivers that have contributed to the present crisis in Eskom.
They are:
• the rising primary energy costs associated with coal, diesel and water
• high executive pay and costs of consultants
• corruption throughout the value chain of Eskom, especially costs overrun in the construction of power stations.
There is also a lack of information from Eskom and the major coal producers on what is causing the rise in costs. Conference agrees that;
• Government should subsidise Eskom.
• Reject solutions that end up with communities/organizations fighting with each other.
In the short-term and as emergency measures:
• Reduce costs of primary energy costs – Controlling cost of coal. This requires greater control over price of coal and therefore control over the price of suppliers
• Pass emergency regulations/legislation declaring coal a strategic mineral.
• Prescribed assets: banks and other financial institutions are to invest 10%-15% of lending and investments into infrastructure projects, including Eskom.
• The issue of coal mining licenses must immediately be revisited to ensure security of supply and fixed price mechanism
Eskom shouldn’t have to pay dividends and taxes.
Programme of Action
• Need to build a broad coalition around the electricity crisis
• join hands of workers and communities around struggles
• draw in people and organizations working on energy, environment, climate
• Need to embark on protest action, litigation, mobilization and education
• Need to prioritize building support for communities engaged in electricity struggles
• Unite and strengthen these struggles
• Particularly in communities where above average guideline increases are being proposed
• Need to build support for workers in electricity sector engaged in struggles
In practical terms
1. Tariffs:
• We call for a moratorium on the disconnection of municipalities by Eskom for non-payment.
• Tariffs: As the campaign and as individual organisations need to make submissions on the electricity increase – by 15 June
• Picket outside NERSA/fill the hall when hearings are held – 22 or 23 June
• 9 municipalities applying for above guideline increases – public hearings on this – 19 June
• Need to find way of co-ordinating with those communities  – communities must say what they think of their municipalities application and supporting them in their actions against proposed increases
• Abaqulusi Local Municipality
• Cape Agulhas Local Municipality
• City of Umhlathuze Local Municipality
• Drakenstein Local municipality
• Endumeni Local Municipality
• Gariep Local Municipality
• Midvaal Local Municipality
• Mookgopong Local Municipality
• Msukaligwa Local Municipality
2. Engaging with government, ESKOM and NERSA – come clean!
• Need Eskom and government and NERSA to come clean give us the full facts!
• Meeting with war room to make presentation on our way forward
• Meeting with ESKOM to make presentation on our way forward
3. Representation on NERSA and in the war room
NERSA and the war room are taking decisions that fundamentally affect the lives of ordinary people, communities and workers, but we are not part of these decision making processes
• We want representatives to sit in War Room
• We want representatives to sit on NERSA
4. Soliarity in the streets
• Call on unions to consider and initiate Section 77 Action
• Showing solidarity for communities struggling around issues
• Evening vigils
• Other actions like pickets, marches, protests
• Call on business and industry not to deduct wages from any workers who are not able to work because of load shedding.
• Act in solidarity with workers who are not paid as a result of load shedding
5. Developing our vision for the electricity sector:
• We plan to set up a “peace room” where we draw on research and information to develop our own plan for the electricity sector that meets the needs of people. Research needed will include:
• Coal – commission report on this
• Renewable Energy and being put into grid as a solution – different ideas about how this should be done – some research to be done on this
• We will support campaigns against the planned nuclear procurement plan – we do not believe that nuclear energy is the answer.
Who takes this forward?      
• Interim civil society steering committee:
• One representative from each national organisation with mass base present at the Conference
• Provincial representative from each of the provinces present