Eskom’s next challenge in keeping the lights on: Coal’s court case

Eskom’s next challenge in keeping the lights on: Coal’s court case

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The power utility is fighting to continue to source power from independent, renewable producers.

As operational problems bring Eskom to its knees while it battles to keep electricity flowing during some of its darkest days, solutions to resolving the problems are a signature away, energy experts have said – provided today’s court action by the Coal Transporters Forum (CTF) doesn’t derail efforts to provide clean, sustainable energy.

Having burnt through more than R1 billion worth of diesel since emergency stocks were delivered by ship to SA in early February, Eskom has once again run out, the pumped storage dam levels are low (water is pumped to a higher dam from a lower to generate electricity but due to load-shedding Eskom has not been able to keep the dams topped up), 1,400MW from the Cahora Bassa hydro plant is missing thanks to the tropical cyclone destroying the powerlines between the Tsongo substation in Mozambique and Apollo substation in Gauteng, and 5,000MW is also offline due to boiler tube leaks in eight generators.

Energy expert Chris Yelland noted three other units were running. However, they also had boiler tube leaks.

“Eskom would normally shut them down because it does damage to run with boiler leaks, but that would mean a further loss of up to 1,500MW from the grid,” Yelland said.

All of this, said Yelland, was over and above unplanned outages, such as the substation that blew up in Emfuleni recently.

“Eskom has said this will carry on until Wednesday. The problems are not going to be solved overnight,” Yelland noted.

In the midst of all this, it’s the CTS that will today ask the High Court in Pretoria to block Eskom from obtaining power from independent power producers.

There are 37 respondents to CTF’s action, and Mark Pickering, chairperson of the South African Wind Energy Association, is representing 26 of them.

“The suggestion that 1 million permanent jobs will be lost by Eskom and its associated suppliers as a result if the [independent power producers] programme is wildly implausible,” Pickering wrote in his answering affidavit.

He noted Eskom had 47,658 employees while the coal mining industry had 77,226 and that Eskom’s own policies dictated rail and conveyers for the transport of coal.

Pickering said CSIR research indicated more than 2 million jobs would be created in the wind energy sector alone between 2020 and 2050.

If Energy Minister Jeff Radebe wanted to bring a rapid halt to load shedding, he had to unlock the regulatory constraints preventing customers being part of the solution through small-scale embedded generation, such as rooftop solar PV for homes, business, buildings, warehouses, factories, mines and farms, Yelland said.

“Unlock the policy, regulatory and legal constraints preventing municipalities from generating electricity for their own residents and customers, or from contracting with IPPs to supply electricity to municipalities,” said Yelland.

Professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town Anton Eberhard said on Twitter yesterday he couldn’t agree more with Yelland.

“And it is so easy to free up the market for distributed energy generation. Lift the exemption for licensing from 1MW to 10MW and simplify registration. Energy Minister Jeff Radebe could gazette these new regulations tomorrow,” Eberhard said.


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