Load shedding is not going away and people don’t know the full reasons, experts say.
This comes against the backdrop of surprise rolling blackouts this weekend, which Eskom blamed on the failure of a conveyor belt system at Medupi Power Station.
Energy expert Ted Blom said that while the conveyor belt issue precipitated load shedding on Saturday night, this loss to the grid should not have exceeded 1,000MW, meaning the load shedding should have stopped at stage 1, not stage 2.
To him, it seemed that further system breakdowns which occurred simultaneously could have led to the loss of 2,000MW.
“It’s difficult to judge from the information given, but it seems they recovered the Medupi situation overnight, but that other breakdowns also occurred during the night – leading up to the extension of load shedding to Monday morning. I anticipate the load shedding to remain at about level 2.”
Trade unions were also dissatisfied with Eskom’s explanations.
SA Federation of Trade Unions secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi accused the utility of lying: “I don’t believe this thing of a conveyor belt. These people must assume we do not know what a conveyor belt is. It is very sad because the people who will suffer the most from this is the poor.
“They will be on the receiving end of this rubbish. The people who make these decisions do so because they now have generators at home and they will never be impacted. To prove they really don’t care about us, they ask for R1.8 billion on top of that for bonuses, in the middle of a crisis. That leaves me speechless.”
According to Eskom yesterday, the conveyor belt failure at Medupi had been repaired and the plant was feeding power into the grid. But the incident is as good as a loss if additional generation units caused the utility to have to deplete its diesel and pump storage levels, which it needed to restore ahead of the beginning of the working week.
“Owing to inadequate maintenance over a number of years, the system remains vulnerable to unplanned outages,” said Eskom spokesperson Dikatso Motae.
Congress of SA Trade Unions parliamentary coordinator Matthew Parks said Eskom’s reasons were not enough of an explanation, because the underlying cause was in management.
“The underlying causes of this are the years and years of underinvesting in maintenance of the infrastructure and ensuring there was enough generation capacity,” said Parks.
“There has been a lack in investment in maintenance for over 15 years and some of these plants are going to reach the end of their lifespan. Some of them are already working beyond their lifespan. In the next few years, we need to focus on increasing generating capacity, which also means investing in renewable energy, otherwise we won’t be able to get out of this crisis for the next 10 years.”
Democratic Alliance public enterprises spokesperson Ghaleb Cachalia said his party was calling for more transparency in the utility and was not satisfied with the reasons it had been giving for load shedding over the past year.
“Frankly, it is laughable that every time there is an issue leading to load shedding it is always some trumped-up story, whether it is a conveyor belt, internal sabotage or wet coal,” he said.
“It is all just smoke and mirrors. It is just command, control and obfuscation. This is a critical time for a public utility which is R450 billion in debt and, if you add the restructuring costs, the amount comes to 76% of the national debt. It is time for some transparency here.”
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