Grade: Too early to say
Energy Minister Ben Martins has only been in the chair for a few months and has benefited from the reflected glory of predecessor Dipuo Peters`s role in the successful renewable energy procurement programme. This initiative was characterised by transparency and falling energy prices.
Martins`s appointment was widely viewed as one that would enhance working relations with his counterpart in the department of public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, for whom Martins deputised between 2010 and 2012.
The finalisation of some key policies, a chief function of his department, has been seen as slow. Yet earlier this month the department released a long-awaited revision of the Integrated Resource Plan of 2010. It is the country`s 20-year electricity road map and is vital to informing large energy investments, including whether or not to go ahead with nuclear energy procurement. The draft plan has been welcomed for its major adjustments to vital assumptions, which have brought it more in line with the positions of the National Development Plan on the country`s energy choices.
But there have been disappointments. The Independent System and Market Operator Bill, meant to bring about structural reform of the electricity sector, will not be passed this year, despite extensive work on it by the parliamentary portfolio committee on energy. This ensures that Eskom remains by and large the exclusive purveyor of electricity for a good while to come, and that the ability of independent power producers and industry to co-produce electricity remains constrained.
The auditor general gave the department a clean bill of health. But entities that report to it, such as PetroSA, have not escaped scandal this year, suggesting that oversight of these bodies needs to be more thorough. But, again to Martins`s credit, criminal investigations into questionable dealings at the state oil company have been actively pursued.
The department has done too little to promote energy efficiency, though the country is facing a power shortage. Promoting behavioural changes in energy consumption, for instance switching from paraffin to liquefied petroleum gas in low-income households, has been slow.
It is not just in the electricity arena where performance has come up short. The fuel refinery audit remains incomplete, so informed decisions over whether or not PetroSA needs to build the mega-refinery Mthombo cannot be made.