Eskom fights to keep lights on

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Four of national electricity supplier Eskom’s generators in Mpumalanga shut down yesterday, creating an “emergency” that could lead to power cuts countrywide.

Eskom spokesman Andrew Etzinger said their “loss of additional generating units… are from the coal fire power stations in Mpumalanga”.

“Electricity is a very dynamic business. Electricity trips and it’s gone instantly. Between 11:30am to 12pm (yesterday) four of our generators developed technical problems and needed to be shut down for repairs. That is currently being repaired. The time taken to repair it depends on the severity of the fault,” said Etzinger.

“All four went off. This is extraordinary. It’s not the normal.”
He said power supply nationwide was also affected after imports from neighbouring Mozambique came to a halt this week.

“We import power from Mozambique and one of the mines that bring power into SA broke yesterday (Wednesday). It has exacerbated the problem,” said Etzinger.

“That’s normally a very reliable supply. A power line snatched. It’s a relatively minor fault to repair but the problem is that it is at a remote location. Our engineers are on the way.”

Eksom yesterday asked its industrial customers and household consumers to cut down electricity usage. It issued a statement stating it was “now following the protocol in terms of its emergency procedures in order to secure the power system”.

“We have alerted our key industrial customers and have required them to reduce their load by a minimum of 10% as from 2pm (yesterday). The emergency is in force until 9pm (yesterday). This will be reviewed thereafter to determine the way forward,” said Eskom.

Etzinger said this affected “138 large industrial customers”.

“In the main, those companies tend to be mines and smelters in northern parts of the country and KZN. They are cutting back on an agreed principle,” he said.

“It reduces the production output of our industrial customers. That has a negative economic effect. It is important that we provide them with an opportunity to return to normal as quick as possible.”

He added: “If we have the public also turning off appliances, we would have saved enough power to bring back our industrial customers.”

Etzinger said South Africa has had a power supply constraint that “has existed since 2007”. Eskom declared a power supply emergency last November 19. Its last load shedding was in January 2008. That meant countrywide power cuts.

“This is not business as usual. It is a serious situation. We will not allow it to deteriorate to a crisis,” said Etzinger.

“We can’t rule out the possibility of load shedding. It’s a method to keep the system in balance. We are determined to prevent load shedding but we need the support from the public. If each of us can reduce a little bit here and there, if we can all switch off our geyser when we go home, there is no reason for load shedding.”

Two leading political parties responded to Eskom’s emergency declaration yesterday. The Democratic Alliance asked: “Is SA on brink of rolling-blackouts?”

“This is of great concern. It seems as though South Africa is yet again on the brink of major black-outs which would be disastrous for our economy in general and job-creation in particular,” is said.

Natasha Michael, the party’s spokeswoman on public enterprises, said she would write to public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba to “urge him to immediately brief Parliament on the status of power supply at Eskom”

She said he should confirm “whether black-outs are going to continue, and what steps are being taken to prevent this from happening”.

“South Africa also needs to know what is happening with the Medupi power station and when exactly it will come online. Already the project has been delayed three times, and the costs have increased from R91.2 to over R100 billion,” she added.

Cobus Grobler, acting spokesman for the Western Cape ANC, said Eskom had standby facilities in the province and the power emergency would “not have much of an effect in the Western Cape”.

“We would like people to reduce the use of electricity where possible,” he said.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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