Why’s Eskom not using slurry?
Try to imagine what it must have been like to be a coal miner for the Guptas.
Out and out racists, the Guptas despised Africans and treated them very badly.
Those who provided access to taxpayers’ money were, of course, flattered and deceived.
But safety standards at the two Gupta coal mines – Koornfontein, which supplied coal to Eskom’s Komati power station, and Optimum, which supplied Hendrina – were by all accounts dreadful.
These two Mpumalanga mines are now in business rescue, with rescue “practitioners” supposedly running them while they desperately look for new owners.
As they do that, Hendrina and Komati are both quite high on Eskom’s list for decommissioning.
Little wonder as Komati, for instance, first produced power in 1961.
The miners the Guptas left behind as they fled the country after Jacob Zuma was no longer able to facilitate their looting spree have not been paid for almost a year.
At Koornfontein, the little town nearby has rallied to help with food parcels and tries to provide some level of support. This all happens far away. They are forgotten. But the pain must be unspeakable. And then there’s slurry. Where there’s muck there’s brass, they say.
Brass means money. Slurry is what’s left over after coal has been washed and prepared for delivery to Eskom’s power stations.
There is, wait for it, two billion tons of slurry lying about at SA’s coal mines.
It’s kept in slurry “ponds”, unused, forgotten and unrehabilitated.
But coal’s dark secret is that the slurry can be used.
It can be dried and turned into pellets or briquets that could fire Eskom’s coal power stations for decades and for a fraction of the prices it currently pays for coal.
The really interesting thing is that in the higher reaches of Eskom this is utterly ignored.
They won’t tell public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan about it and they certainly won’t tell President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Yet I’m told that while the miners at Kroonfontein suffer, trucks leave the mine day and night (and at night no one bothers with the weigh-bridge to test tonnages leaving) full to bursting with slurry at less than R50 a ton (Eskom pays about R85 a ton for coal) to be mixed with other coal and sold back to Eskom at a delectable premium.
Time, minister, for a chat with the business rescue chaps at Kroonfontein?
Put intelligence outside the mine (or all coal mines, for that matter) for two months and see what leaves.
Time, too, to talk to the Eskom research facility at Rosherville on the East Rand.
Its operators understand intimately the technology involved in drying and pelletising slurry.
They have already tested and approved the briquets for use in power stations.
In fact, they have found that it combusts marginally better than ordinary coal.
This from middle managers at Eskom who have been working with the company for decades.
Yet Eskom top management refuses to buy it even though it would cost a third of the current coal price and put some miners back to work.
And we are told there’s a coal crisis at Eskom?
What is wrong with these people?
At its heart Eskom is a deeply conservative organisation.
It doesn’t like new things, as independent power producers have discovered.
In the process, ministers are told lies.
No wonder they are cautious.
The fact is that the potential savings in using slurry gives Eskom an intrinsic asset valued at R850bn over 20 years and guarantees coal for its power stations.
That is, by the way, about double Eskom’s current debt.
It can be implemented pretty much immediately and requires absolutely no capital input from Eskom. What’s not to like? There are multiple companies that can do this and it’s an easy empowerment play.
The people I have spoken to about this say job creation could start almost immediately and it would obviously mitigate some of the anger around the arrival of renewable energy.
This is where the answer to the left’s “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewable energy lies.
A whole new parallel coal industry could be created overnight to produce more than 100 million tons a year for Eskom.
On average, Eskom burns about 110 million tons of “real” coal a year.
Translate all that on to Eskom’s balance sheet and many of its financial problems go away.
Then it’s just technical. I know Eskom’s “six pack” power stations are huge and magnificent, and hard to maintain.
Someone has to start talking about solutions.
We already have the technology and we sure have the slurry.
Perhaps the place to start is parliament’s energy committee or the minister.
Eskom’s management worries me.
But be quick.
Sharp minds have already spotted the brass in the slurry.
It is leaving Kroonfontein at a rate of knots and for way below what it should cost.
Not a cent of that profit is going to the families of starving coal miners.
We cannot continue to treat fellow citizens this way.