Despite stated plans to rebalance its energy mix, Minister of Mineral Resources, Susan Shabangu, outlined coal’s importance to SA’s future. “There can be no doubt of the critical role coal will continue to play in our country’s energy landscape – long into our nation’s future,” said Shabangu at the inauguration of Sasol Mining’s first major replacement mine since starting operations over six decades ago.
But, while it is to remain an important cog in the country’s industrial machine, the minister was quick to remind the industry to reposition itself in relation to the changing global and domestic priorities.
This included urging companies like Sasol to invest more into research and innovation to mitigate the negative impacts from coal exploitation by responding to climate change issues.
And, she said “While South Africa has through its multilateral commitments and the Integrated Resource Plan 2010, made clear its intention to rebalance its energy mix, there is still a vital role envisioned for coal generated energy. This is even more so in the present. This is an area where the state owned mining company will play a strategic role.”
The minister did not elaborate on the strategic role envisaged for the state owned miner but would presumably entail securing coal supply for the country’s power utility, Eskom.
The intention to streamline the current fragmented and time consuming mining licensing process has oft been mentioned but the minister committed that this would become a thing of the past and that the new integrated system would afford mines the opportunity to start up within a year.
With the addition of the new Thubelisha shaft to the Sasol family as well as two more mines due to come on line the minister concluded by saying that these new investments showed the company’s commitment to South Africa and rubbished the perception that Sasol was divesting out of the country.
CEO, David Constable, said that the pipeline of projects for the company over the next two years would see it spend a further R40 billion across its Southern African operations.
Chairperson, Nolitha Fakude, said that this was to be made up of R14 billion to be spent on the replacement of its mines in the Secunda complex and the balance for sustaining capital.
Sasol’s Secunda complex alone produces over 40mtpa of coal making it the third largest producer in South Africa. Over 90% of the coal is used to produce high quality synthetic fuels and chemicals.
“Sasol has entered a period of intense capital replacement and will replace 60% of our operating capacity in Secunda in the next eight years” said Hermann Wenhold, the managing director of Sasol Mining. This was after spending over R42 billion in the past three years in South Africa alone.
The new shaft complex, which will consist of three vertical shafts and one decline shaft to a depth of 160m, is essentially a replacement for the current Twistdraai colliery that is coming to the end of its economic life. The investment is expected to expand supply to export markets and Sasol’s synthetic fuel operations until 2039 and will sustain 1 600 jobs.