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S.A energy strategy proposes shift away from coal

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 26 – South Africa opened public hearings on a draft energy strategy on Tuesday, to shift from dependency on coal while avoiding major price rises and a repetition of paralysing blackouts in 2008.

The draft plan proposes nearly halving the share of coal in the country\’s energy mix to 48 percent by 2030, down from about 90 percent today, using nuclear power and renewable energy such as wind and solar to make up the difference.

The proposal, with an estimated price tag of 860 billion rands (125 billion dollars, 89 billion euros), would expand the country\’s generation capacity by 52,248 megawatts over the next 20 years, up from almost 40,000 megawatts today.

It also seeks to balance the push for cleaner energy with the need to keep electricity costs in check and ensure a stable energy supply, said Nelisiwe Magubane, director general of the Department of Energy.

"We need to make sure that we have adequate electricity going into the future," Magubane told journalists at a briefing on the proposal.

She called the rolling blackouts that rocked the country\’s economy in 2008 "one of the worst crises in the history of South Africa", and said the government and parastatal power company Eskom have made keeping the lights on a priority in planning the country\’s energy supply for the next two decades.

"At the end of the day people want to have electricity. You might have all sorts of technologies in place, but if you are not sure that they can deliver what you need at a specific time, then you are going to have a serious problem," Magubane said.

"The experience we had in 2008 indicated that it\’s more expensive not to have electricity."

The proposal, called the "Integrated Resource Plan", will be up for discussion at public meetings in November and December and will then undergo a revision to reflect public input.

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Magubane said the government plans to adopt it as official policy in early 2011.

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