Nersa ready to approve gas projects

By Mandisa Nyathi





In the face of severe load-shedding, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has started approving gas projects to help alleviate the pressure on the economy. (Luca Sola/AFP)

In the face of severe load-shedding, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has started approving gas projects to help alleviate the pressure on the economy. 

Richards Bay is earmarked as the hub that will supply natural gas through the existing Lilly pipeline infrastructure (also known as Secunda-Durban natural gas pipeline) inland and down to eThekwini. 

According to the Energy Information Administration, most of South Africa’s natural gas originates from the maturing offshore F-A field and the South Coast Complex fields. 

The energy regulator has recently sided with Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe to approve Eskom’s request to build a 3 000 megawatt gas power station in Richards Bay.

The minister of forestry, fisheries and the environment, Barbara Creecy, has signalled her support for the gas plant.

Defending the project as part of Eskom’s drive to reduce its carbon footprint by using gas as a “transition fuel”, Creecy said in court papers that South Africa was an emerging economy that needed to “balance the competing need for continued economic growth with its social needs and the protection of the environment”.

Pointing to the unresolved Eskom power crisis, Creecy backpedalled from an ambitious renewable energy pathway, declaring that “an irresponsible and sudden migration to renewables may hold prejudicial consequences for the stability of the electricity grid”.

She stated that the court should not intrude into energy decisions taken by government officials with “special expertise and experience in this field”.

The gas plant is expected to be completed in 2028 and will generate enough electricity to mitigate at least three stages of load-shedding.

Nersa’s Nomfundo Maseti told the Mail & Guardian that the use of gas must not be discounted. “Africa must be allowed to get their industries in order and be allowed to use gas before moving fully into renewable energy.”

The government’s policy documents had acknowledged that without ambitious emission reductions, temperatures in the South African interior were expected to rise by 5°C to 8°C by the end of the century, and that rainfall patterns would also become more unpredictable.

In a document published in 2010 by the treasury, the government said analyses indicated that South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions could rise fourfold by 2050 if no action was taken to decarbonise.

But Maseti said that even while considering the effect of climate change, South Africa must be practical and agree that “our journey to net zero is not going to be overnight. We need to look at the costs and the impact it will have on the consumers. We need to also give the gas industry an opportunity to grow.” 

Maseti said gas would help South Africa escape the energy crisis, adding that it was also important to learn from the experiences of other countries that had not sufficiently stored gas.  

Although renewable energy was the best alternative to fossil fuels, gas was a good option because it was readily available, she said. 

Maseti echoed Mantashe’s position that South Africa’s energy grid does not have enough baseload capacity (the ability to generate reliable power) for renewables to alone power the country. 

Baseload supply was critical to South Africa’s planned re-industrialisation, she said, which included upping steel production and boosting electric vehicle production. 

During an energy conference last week, Mantashe said renewables faced a shortage of electricity grid connections, which needs to be resolved if South Africa is to add to the generation capacity to end outages.

Central Energy Fund (CEF) group chief executive Ishmael Poolo said during the Africa Energy Indaba in October last year that South Africa should use renewables to complement the baseload and offset the emissions that come with installing these fossil fuel-based energy sources. 

“We have looked closely at the US coal to gas switching trajectory, since 2005 they have reported over 60% of emission reduction. As a country committed to the low carbon future, we are looking forward to building and or to convert more gas to power stations alongside other less emitting energy sources,” he said. 

Active gas projects 

The department of forestry, fisheries and the environment has identified potential strategic gas pipeline corridors. These are: 

Phase 1 a and  b: Saldanha to Ankerlig and Saldanha to Mossel Bay

Phase 2: Mossel Bay to Coega.

Phase 3: Richards Bay to Gauteng 

Phase 4: Mozambique (Southern Border) to Richards Bay 

Phase 5: Abraham Villiers Bay (Northern Cape) to Saldanha 

Phase 6: Abraham Villiers Bay (Northern Cape) to Oranjemund in Namibia.

Phase 7: Coega to Richards Bay 

Phase 8: Rompco Pipeline Corridor Phase 

9: Inland Corridor from Saldanha to Coega

Last year, producer Renergen, which describes itself as a renewable energy producer, delivering helium and domestic natural gas, announced that it had produced its first quantity of liquid helium at its Virginia Gas Project in the Free State, over an area that includes Welkom, Virginia, and Theunissen. The project is owned and operated by Renergen’s subsidiary, Tetra4. 

Renergen estimates that the helium reserve at the site could be as large as 9.74 billion cubic metres. Helium is extracted from natural gas. 

The CEF’s Poolo said the Virginia Gas Plant is South Africa’s first commercial liquid natural gas — or LNG — plant. He added that this is a significant milestone in the country’s drive to reduce its carbon footprint. 

“Through the CEF, the government is in the process of acquiring a 10% stake in the project by investing significant capital in this gas discovery.”

“Africa, Southern Africa and South Africa are well endowed in energy sources that include coal, oil, gas, renewable energy and associated mineral resources. Africa’s future prosperity depends in large part on solving the energy gaps, providing power that is affordable for the households and reliable power for businesses,” Poolo said.

TotalEnergies and its partners have also announced discoveries in blocks 11B and 12B off the coast of Mossel Bay over the past three years. 


Melissa Groenink-Groves, of Natural Justice, said power procurement should focus on renewable energy to meet the needs of people and to safeguard their environmental rights.

Natural Justice and other environmental justice groups lodged an appeal on 31 January to block the government’s proposed 2 000MW Phakwe gas power plant in the Richards Bay industrial development zone.

In their court papers they argued that the assessments on the potential effects of the project fall short of the requirements of the National Environmental Management Act.

“The applicants believe that pollution and environmental degradation is likely to occur if the proposed combined cycle power plant is approved. According to their application, the plant would operate between 16 and 24 hours daily,” the papers read.

The groups argue that the proposed determination is fundamentally unreasonable and irrational and procedurally inadequate.

“As far as we know, this proposed gas capacity is not based on any energy modelling or informed by any impact assessments”, said Desmond D’Sa, of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA). 

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa

Tags: Barbara CreecyESKOMGASGwede MantashaMG EnvironmentNERSARenewable EnergyRichards Bay