Stop the grid, I want to get off!


This Monday evening on 50/50* they did a report on nuclear power stations. How dangerous are they really was the age-old angle. Then they featured an insert on the effects of coal ashes that polluted an aquifer in India. Stunted growth in children who were dependent on that water. So coal powered stations aren’t only a black smudge on Mama Gaia’s soul, they disable our children too.

We’re hosting COP 17 here in South Africa. That is a pretty big deal. When I worked for Greenpeace Africa**, renewable power was one of our campaigns. There are some amazing people out there doing amazing work on solar, wind and hydraulic (wave) power. People that give you shivers when you discuss getting off Eskom’s grid with them. So clever. So passionate. And so dissed, unfortunately.

We have sun, sun and more sun here. There is absolutely NO REASON we should pay and pay and break ourselves paying the ugly critters that call themselves Eskom all this money for electricity. It ought to be affordable to get off the grid and the sun is FREE. Don’t you love it when you’re watching 7de Traan*** and a day-glo banner pops up admonishing you for using too much electricity? What are we? Naughty little children?

My Mom loves the Simply Green magazine. There was an article in there last year of a German apartment block that runs solely on PV (photovoltaic) power. They cook, shower, play video games, leave the tumble drier running through the night if need be, leave lights on at all hours and still make 4 times the amount of power they need. They pay that forward by sharing their excess power with people outside their block. Nobody patronises a hausfrau watching her soapy with ‘switch off your geyser now’ over there.

Why is getting shot of Eskom so difficult here? I met one professor Cooper, who lectures at the University of Johannesburg. He had this to say…

In the higher echelons of South African society, our fuel (SASOL) and power (Eskom) monopolies are related. Miss Eskom married Mr SASOL or whichever way around. Thus, therefore, so – there is family money and power vested in mere mortals using coal.  This coal royalty dynasty will perish before they see us convert to solar power as a nation. Speaking of SASOL, I remember performing at a school with the On-Cue Theatre in Secunda, situated close to SASOL’s plant there. It took about 10 minutes after arriving there to choke and tear up from the acrid air. The children were all teary-eyed, snotty-nosed, coughing little wrecks. Remembering that makes me so savage!

Professor Cooper lives in the Rand Club, a square kilometer of élite housing in Johannesburg’s CBD. Fifteen of South Africa’s most wealthy own homes there. They are completely off the grid, using technology not accessible to the average South African. He told me Eskom started bullying tactics with them a few years back and the trustees retorted by letting their lawyers write to Eskom a very taunting letter threatening to take their money out of the South African economy. They backed off.

I met a German engineer in Cape Town who laughed derisively when I attempted to sign him up as a Greenpeace supporter.  He took his business off the grid and Eskom started tactics he said ‘threatened my livelihood and eventually the safety of my family.’ Unfortunately he isn’t wealthy enough to take them on.

I’m going to include a poll in this post. It would be interesting to hear how many of you have managed to do what the Garforth-Venters**** have done or at least gotten off the grid partially.

I am yet to do so myself.

Go get them at COP 17 green girls and boys.

*Stalwarts of environmental reporting and activism in South Africa.

**I did some fundraising for Greenpeace a couple of years back. My cousin coined the name Greenpoes for them after we fell out, which made me laugh until I cried (thanks Tania) –  but that is another blog for another day. I just want to say I won.

***Local Afrikaans soapy actually called 7de laan, which is so lame it makes me shed a tear (hence traan.)

****South-Africa’s wannabe version of the Brangelinas. They are fantastic environmental activists though and have taken their whole (tacky Tuscan-style) mansion off the grid.

p.s I would also like to blog about Black Tuesday soon. Just as soon as I am not so emotional about our media being muzzled.

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