Johannesburg - Non-profit organisations (NPOs) and vulnerable communities should be exempted from Eskom's proposed tariff increases, the Gauteng Welfare, Social Services and Development Forum said on Thursday.
Spokesperson Jacqueline Loffell said many of these organisations were already battling to keep afloat and an electricity price hike would only make matters worse.
She was speaking at National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) hearings in Midrand on Eskom's request for a 16% increase in electricity prices each year for the next five years (known as MYPD3).
The proposal will more than double the price of electricity in five years, taking it from 61 cents a kilowatt hour in 2012/13, to 128 cents a kWh in 2017/18.
Loffell said at least 80% of NPOs had to endure recent funding cuts.
About 64% of them had to cut down on the services they provided to beneficiaries and 7 612 retrenchments were carried out in the last few years.
She said NPOs, especially those catering for the disabled, depended on electricity to charge batteries for electrical wheelchairs, breathing machines and equipment to regulate the body temperature.
Lebohang Mokoena, from the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, echoed a point raised by several speakers, saying Nersa should have brought the hearings to the poor communities.
He said people who would be affected by Eskom's tariff increase could not even access the MYPD 3 document that explained Eskom's plans and reasons for wanting the increase.
"I accessed the document through the internet on my phone," he said.
Mokwena said the panel should remember that information was not always accessible to the poor.
At the end of his visual presentation, there appeared a sign reading: "Please give us renewable energy, don't make us beg".
Thabo Mokwena of the Centre for Public Enterprises said Eskom should keep its proposed tariff hikes below a double digit.
He suggested a special tariff for certain sectors that utilised high amounts of electricity.
Deputy executive director Johan Pienaar said while the centre sympathised with Eskom and understood its plight, 16% was just too steep.
"We proposed a six to 10% hike," he said.
Protests outside the Gallagher Convention Centre had died down by the afternoon.
Around 100 people, mostly dressed in red T-shirts, earlier sang struggle songs and danced outside the gate of the venue.
Several of them had carried posters reading: "We say no to 16%", "Eskom's application equals job losses and inflation" and "Link electricity tariff increases to inflation".
A few of the protesters later entered the venue to listen to proceedings.