Energy experts call for review of free basic electricity policy

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Energy experts say the Free Basic Electricity policy needs to be reviewed going into the future. This comes as the country celebrates National Energy Month.

The Government Communication and Information System hosted a roundtable discussion in Pretoria on the electrification programme since 1994.

Government, Eskom and the private sector came together to mark electricity provision in the country over 30 years of democracy.

In 1994, about 2. 5 million households were electrified. And through the electrification program, over 8. 3 million households have electricity across the country to date. However, there are still communities that are not catered for. And a majority of those reside in the informal and rural settlements.

The South African Local Government Association says due to the high cost of living and the high rate of unemployment in the country, the Free Basic Electricity Policy needs to be reviewed. This is to ensure that more people have electricity in their homes.

Salga’s Head of Energy, Nhlanhla Ngidi says, “When government, you know, approved the program of electrification, well that time government understood that there are people in our economy, there’s still a lot of social economic issues and there’s a large percentage of people that are not working or are not active in the economy, but we promised as government in 1994 that we’re going to give people universal access to electricity. So, which means that we need to find ways to connect more people and make sure that everyone at least has these basic services.”

The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy says the goal post to ensure that all South Africans have electricity continues to move. This is because the number of households continues to grow. This has led to a backlog to electrify households to be around 3.1 million.

Head of Inep, Lufuno Madzhie explains, “In terms of our numbers, which are the numbers that as the department, we also really need to confirm. We are having a backlog of around 3.1 million which we have. Assess from the department side that 3.1 million over 1.2 million are within the informal settlement part. So, this is the challenge that we are really still facing as the department and we are going to engage municipalities as well as come so that when they submit their plans, they need to look into those communities that are really not catered, so that at the end of the day they are supposed to be celebrating with the majority of communities that are now enjoying this electricity in this new democratic South Africa of ours.”

Energy expert, Chris Yellend says it’s no use to make electricity accessible to all if not affordable. Yellend echoes the need to review the Free Basic Electricity Program.

“Access on its own is meaningless if it’s not affordable and so you know, you pay and have the best schools but if people can’t afford the fees and that you have to pay the fees or else you can’t go to school, it doesn’t help to have the best schools if it’s just not affordable. So, one has got to look at the access to electricity at the same time it looks at affordability and I have to point it out that the government’s relief programme for free basic electricity of 50 kilowatts per hour is frankly inadequate.”

Eskom says to ensure that those in the rural areas also get electricity, the power utility has made alternative arrangements.

Senior Manager for Eskom Distribution Electrification, Portia Papu says, “I think the challenge now that we are faced with is that we now have to reach the far-flung areas where otherwise we wouldn’t be able to reach. So, it’s your far corners in all the rural areas. So, now our cost to the connection becomes a lot more expensive, it becomes lower because it’s difficult to get to those areas because of the topology and with that said, with the support from the DMRE again. As Eskom we had started and embarked on rolling out of microgrids containerised microgrids for those far-flung areas where otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get great electricity there because of losses.”

Government says it aims to reflect on the freedom that South Africans have enjoyed since the advent of democracy from 1994 to 2024 with a focus on strides made in the electrification of households across the country.