“A decentralized power supply network, where local institutions play a role, is not a strange phenomenon here at the southern tip of Africa. The history of the origin of electricity supply was precisely characterized by a decentralized approach.”
Community federalism forms the basis on which AfriForum and the Solidarity Movement’s federal future plans are built. This means that these plans are not primarily dependent on the agreement of the ANC government to devolve powers to communities, but rather are built around the ability of communities to take control of their own future through the establishment of community institutions. to be able to take Federalism assumes different levels of decision-making, while community federalism specifically appropriates decision-making power for communities through a DIY approach.
The ANC government, which is ideologically strongly connected to the current failed centralist dispensation, will of course not want to agree to decentralization, but luckily we don’t have to ask them. Our communities can peacefully and simply begin to take their future into their own hands in many areas through community institutions. As the state weakens further, opportunities will arise for communities to intervene themselves, as is already happening in many areas.
The accompanying cartoon illustrates well that communities can turn their backs on unworkable centralism and rather walk the path of community federalism. Also in terms of power supply, communities will increasingly choose the path of community federalism and decentralization over centralism out of necessity.
The early years: Decentralized power supply
A decentralized power supply network, where local institutions play a role, is not a strange phenomenon here at the southern tip of Africa. The history of the origin of electricity supply was precisely characterized by a decentralized approach.
For example, electricity was generated on a small scale from 1860 to operate one specific project, the electric telegraph system between Cape Town and Simonstown. In 1881 electricity was generated to light the Cape station and in 1882 to provide the Cape Parliament with electric lights. Also in 1882, Kimberley became the first town in the country to generate electricity to light street lights. After that, more and more towns and mines across the country started to generate their own electricity.
The centralization of power supply
However, the Power Act of 28 May 1910 in the Transvaal colony began to limit private power generation and increasingly claim the role for the state. After Unification, the tendency towards centralization and state control gained additional momentum with the establishment of the Electricity Supply Commission (Evkom) under the Electricity Act of 1922. The Electricity Control Board, which also arose from this act, controlled, licensed and set rates for electricity supply.
The skill with which the centralized power supply system was introduced and managed had the positive effect that electricity could be supplied cheaply and on a large scale. This formed the basis on which South Africa was successfully industrialized.
The unintended consequence of the centralized and highly specialized Evkom success story is that it would leave local communities and businesses extremely vulnerable should Eskom (the new name for Evkom since 1987) for whatever reason not be able to effectively meet the electricity needs.
Decentralization of power supply now again essential
The current South African government and state has degenerated into a corruptocracy and kakistocracy (rule by the worst), which is made worse by the fact that they are in control of a strong centralist dispensation. This results in the state’s failure having an impact to the lowest possible level. The decline of Eskom under the centralist new dispensation is experienced by people even in their own living rooms when there is load shedding.
The gaps left by the collapse of Eskom will inevitably lead to communities themselves starting to step in to find solutions, whether the government likes it or not. The decentralization of power supply is therefore inevitable.
The entry of communities and the business sector to try to solve the power crisis will inevitably serve as a stimulus to unlock and build community federalism. When communities can successfully meet their own electricity needs out of necessity, the inevitable consequence will be that they will begin to step in on an even larger scale to provide services in communities themselves, as AfriForum’s branches and neighborhood watches are already doing nationwide.
A model for community power
AfriForum and other role players have already started to develop workable plans so that communities themselves can take control of their electricity supply. A three-phase plan is being refined to offer communities opportunities to unlock community power, literally and figuratively speaking. The phases are as follows:
Phase 1: Short term – individuals generate power themselves
Several individuals and businesses have already taken steps to become more government-reliant in terms of electricity supply by installing solar panels and battery systems. AfriForum has already published a guideline document on solar power in layman’s language to assist people who also plan to do so. Since the installation of solar power is not cheap, AfriForum is also currently working on affordable financing models and a database of reliable installers.
Due to the costs, solar power at homes has not been allocated to everyone and that is why AfriForum is already taking various legal steps to make sure that the power supply network is already opened in the short term to help individuals and private institutions with surplus power to contribute at fair compensation to to meet the power needs of other households. Nersa’s current tariff of less than R1 per kW/h does not make it worthwhile for the private sector to generate more power on their premises than they themselves need. Other regulatory barriers must also be fought in the courts.
Phase 2: Medium-term – Communities take control of local power grids
Given the fact that more than 80% of municipalities cannot get clean audits and owe Eskom more than R50 billion, these municipalities are, for understandable reasons, not attractive places for private investors to enter. In the well-functioning municipalities, where the ANC will not soon take control, private investors will be lining up to enter. In the Western Cape and especially the Cape Town metro, tender processes have already been opened. Ultimately, it can be foreseen that the towns in the Western Cape, which are not managed by the ANC or unstable coalitions, will be among the first places in the country to become load-shedding-free, along with Orania.
What happened to the rest of the country? Communities will have to take control of their local power grids and manage them. It will not be easy, because corrupt municipalities will want to keep their hand on the wallet, while the ruling party has strong ideological reservations about privatization. The pressure on the ruling party from its own supporter base will ultimately mean that the ANC government will have to succumb in terms of power supply.
The Frankfort model where a private company, Rural Free State, entered into a 25-year contract with the Mafube municipality to manage the electricity network, collect money and pay Eskom, shows what success is possible. In this municipality, power is now cheaper than in the rest of the municipality because waste and corruption have been cut out and collections have improved. Eskom is also paid, unlike in the surrounding municipal areas.
Communities can modify the Frankfort model somewhat to step in themselves. For this, non-profit community vehicles are needed. AfriForum is currently involved in a pilot project to establish a community forum in a part of Centurion, which is served by a wide range of community institutions that include schools and churches. A vehicle like this can then start to put pressure on the municipal authority to manage electricity supply in the area itself per 99-year contract, with the understanding that the rate that community members will have to pay will always be lower than what the municipality itself asks.
The community can then manage their own interests by engaging the private sector in their own interest to limit waste, purchase electricity from businesses and households and contract power suppliers capable of providing a base power of 40%, where solar power can’t do it. Private generation through gas, battery systems and what Eskom can provide can be utilised. For example, by dividing the electricity challenge in Pretoria into many smaller parts, it will pave the way for the respective communities to involve a variety of role players and experts in their communities to find solutions.
Phase 3: Long term
The decentralization of the power grid will require that there must also be a decentralized capacity to provide a 40% base load which is currently largely provided by Eskom’s coal-fired power stations. In the long term, safe nuclear power generation is the solution. There are already numerous companies working abroad on smaller modular nuclear power units. South Africa was once at the forefront of granular bed core technology, but after the government stopped the program in 2010, many of our own experts joined foreign companies.
China currently already has two operational modular granular bed nuclear reactors. In the USA, the nuclear regulator recently also gave its approval for the design of the modular nuclear power generator of a company called NuScale, while others are working strongly in the same direction. There is also great progress by companies such as Westinghouse that rely on core technologies other than granular bed technology.
Currently, nuclear power is too expensive and there are major regulatory barriers to its implementation. Still, we should start making preparations now and making plans for when it becomes cheaper as it becomes more widely produced. Ultimately, small modular nuclear generators will be ideal for bringing energy stability to communities that meet their own power needs on a smaller scale.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. It is not an arriving train or Eskom’s light, but it is the bright light of community power. Literally and figuratively!
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