Renewable energy path threatens 120 000 jobs

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Renewable energy path threatens 120 000 jobs
OBSOLETE: As lobbyists continue to push for renewables to replace coal based electricity production, thousands of jobs are set to be lost in places like eMalahleni and Ermelo. PICTURE BY FT

South Africa produces almost all of its electricity from a fleet of coal-fired power plants run by Eskom, the bulk of which are in Mpumalanga.


A drive to shift South Africa’s electricity production to renewable energy is a major threat to areas whose economic activities rely on coal mining as experts see it costing these areas as many as 120 000 jobs.

In addition the transition could threaten economic activity in four municipalities with a population of more than 2.3 million people.

In the eMalahleni municipal area coal-related activities make up 44% of the economy. 

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Most of the country’s coal is mined in eMalahleni, Govan Mbeki, Steve Tshwete and Msukaligwa local municipalities.

“Because these municipalities are so highly reliant on the coal value chain activities, this is going to leave a huge gap,” said Muhammed Patel, an economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies, during a webinar on Tuesday.

“This is a key concern for South Africa given our high levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty,” Patel said.

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South Africa produces almost all of its electricity from a fleet of coal-fired power plants run by Eskom in this province. 

Many of the plants have been running for decades and there is a push to retire them and switch to alternatives – such as solar energy as South Africa emits the same amount of climate-warning greenhouse gases as the UK, which has an economy 8 times the size.

Coal mines and power stations are more labour intensive than renewable energy plants and Mpumalanga will also face competition from other provinces for the setting up of solar power plants as the Northern Cape, which has a more arid climate and clearer skies.

Coal mines and power stations are more labour intensive than renewable energy plants and Mpumalanga will also face competition from provinces such as the Northern Cape for the setting up of solar power plants, which has a more arid climate and clearer skies.

“Moving to a low-carbon economy will change the structure of the economy and impact on the working class,” said Pulane Mafoea-Nkalai, a senior research specialist at the Sam Tambani Research Institute, which is affiliated to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). 

“NUM, as a union organising in both the coal and energy sector, recognises that their members and their communities will be affected,” Mafoea-Nkalai said.

MoneyWeb