Renewable energy drive threatens 120 000 jobs

A shift to renewable energy in the generation of electricity could leave thousands jobless.

Moneyweb reports that Sam Tambani Research Institute, which is affiliated to the National Union of Mineworkers said a shift of South Africa’s electricity production to renewable energy poses a threat to as many as 120,000 jobs at coal mines and power plants.

The institute’s research suggests transitioning to renewable energy could threaten economic activity in four municipalities including Emalahleni municipal area, where coal-related activities make up 44 percent of the economy. The overall impact is expected to be felt by more than 2.3 million people.

Muhammed Patel, an economist at Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies said that because these municipalities are so highly reliant on the coal value chain activities this is going to leave a huge gap, which is a key concern for South Africa given our high levels of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

South Africa produces almost all its electricity from a suite of coal-fired power plants, many of which have been running for decades. Pulane Mafoea-Nkalai, a senior research specialist at the Sam Tambani Research Institute, says moving to a low-carbon economy will change the structure of the economy and affect the working class.

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

Coal mines and power stations are more labour intensive than renewable energy plants and areas reliant on coal would face competition from other provinces for the siting of solar power plants such as the Northern Cape, which has a more arid climate and clearer skies.

Eskom says it’s planning to create alternative employment by repurposing power stations through its Just Energy Transition programme, which plans to ensure affected communities are not simply left behind when older stations are retired and decommissioned.

The power producer says it is making sure that affected communities are offered economic opportunities through investments and job opportunities in the re-purposing of the stations for renewable energy sources.