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Thu, 17 Oct 2019 12:58 - Updated Thu, 17 Oct 2019 13:04

Eyeing economic growth, South Africa seeks to renegotiate old renewables projects

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa has started discussions with power producers to try to get cheaper electricity from some older renewable energy projects and give the economy a boost, several participants in the talks say.

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But participant power firms - some of which are backed by big names such as EDF Renewables (EDF.PA) - say they can’t give the government big savings on many of the 64 solar and wind projects that are part of the discussions, because most of the money has already been spent.

Putting too much pressure on them would risk deterring renewable energy investment just as the country is suffering nationwide power cuts. Business confidence is weak after corruption scandals under former president Jacob Zuma.

Climate activists are wary of any moves that could delay the country’s sluggish transition from heavily polluting coal power, which still accounts for more than 80% of output and makes South Africa one of the world’s top-20 carbon dioxide emitters.

“80%-90% of project costs are sunk costs, so as an industry we need to manage expectations (by showing) that there isn’t that much room for savings,” said Jan Fourie, general manager for sub-Saharan Africa at Scatec Solar (SSOL.OL), another company that owns projects under discussion.

He said the government had not yet made any formal proposals.

“A unilateral tariff reduction would shake investor confidence and undermine future public-private partnership projects,” Fourie added.

Renewable energy projects are protected by more than 140 billion rand ($9.4 billion) of state guarantees, exposing the government to huge penalties if it were to terminate or breach existing agreements.

Twelve projects, including Scatec’s, also enjoy protection from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), part of the World Bank Group, which offers insurance against breach of contract, said Hoda Atia Moustafa, MIGA’s Africa head,REUTERS.

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