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Eskom maintenance may push up tariffs

Jun 03 2012 14:15
Antoinette Slabbert

Pretoria – Eskom is busy eliminating the maintenance backlog in its power network, but consumers will probably have to pay for it.

This message is contained in a presentation given on Friday by Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba and Eskom chief executive Brian Dames.

Dames explained that early maintenance to the power grid had been deferred as an emergency measure to prevent a repetition of the crippling load shedding of 2008.

Just like a lack of maintenance to an old vehicle, deferral causes mounting problems.

Over the past quarter 9.57% of the network was out of commission owing to unplanned maintenance. The year before it the figure was 6.04%.

In May there was more unplanned maintenance than expected owing, inter alia, to leakages in boiler pipes and delays in returning units to service after maintenance.

Since last year Eskom has said that it can not longer postpone the maintenance work and it has actively begun planning to increase the difference between demand and supply to allow for the decommissioning of units for essential maintenance.

The utility has entered into contracts to buy more than 1 000MW from private power suppliers and municipal generators in an effort to put additional power in the network. The household-demand management programme reduced demand by 125MW and a further 963MW was saved by short-term electricity repurchase contracts with large industrial clients.

A 3 600MW buffer was allowed for unplanned maintenance work and production losses.

In the latter half of last year an average 7.6% of the network was out of commission for planned maintenance each month. The annual average is 9.5%. Since the beginning of 2012 Eskom has accelerated its maintenance programme and pushed up the average to 12%. For the remainder of the year it is expected to be even higher.

As a result the maintenance backlog has come down from 36 units to 26 units. The electricity giant hopes that it will be able to totally clear the backlog by next year.

The flip side of this strategy is that Eskom needs to considerably increase its use of its gas turbine generators, which were designed for emergency use. They use diesel and their operating cost is 10 to 15 times that of coal-fired power stations.

According to Eskom, for the whole of last year and so far this year it has had to use the electricity generators much more than in previous years. The problem is exacerbated in winter, when demand in the evening peak period – between 17:00 and 21:00 – shoots up to 3 000MW.

Dames says Eskom’s tariffs reflect real costs. The increased costs will consequently become evident when Eskom submits its new tariff proposal to energy regulator Nersa next month.

 - Sake24

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