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Bleak winter on cards for 3.8m over Eskom debt

Apr 10 2015 16:37
Matthew le Cordeur

The work on Unit 6 (pictured), which is planned to commercially produce 800MW by July, has not been delayed by the strike action and stay away, Eskom says. (Photo: Eskom)

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Cape Town – While Eskom said it was confident they would have enough generating capacity to avoid load shedding over winter, they announced on Friday that about 3.8 million people might be living in the dark due to arrears by their municipalities.

Maintenance on generators was occurring at full pace and would be completed before winter, Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe told Fin24 on Friday.

“Some of the generators are back online already,” he said, “and that is reducing the level of backlog we had.”

Eskom’s load shedding programme was felt severely between November and February, but it was minimal between March and April due to these generators coming back online.

“We don’t want a cold winter,” Phasiwe said.

However, Eskom has identified 20 of the worst municipalities that have defaulted on their payments and is “contemplating” cutting off power in a staggered approach from June 5.

READ: Eskom to pull plug on top 20 defaulting municipalities

This represents about 7% of the population, Bloomberg reported.

“Non-payment for electricity undermines Eskom’s statutory obligation to generate and supply electricity to municipalities nationally on a financially sustainable basis,” said acting Eskom CEO Zethembe Khoza.  

Preparing for winter

While the Medupi power plant was experiencing labour unrest, the work on Unit 6 was continuing without any disruption, said Phasiwe.

Unit 6 is expected to commercially produce 800MW by the end of June and Phasiwe said they are confident they would meet that deadline.

READ: Irvin Jim steps in as Medupi unrest intensifies

He said the maintenance taking place on Koeberg power station’s Unit 1 was due to be completed by the end of May, meaning an extra 900MW would also be added to the grid for winter.

Phasiwe said there were many other generators coming back online adding further power to the grid. “We have reduced the backlog of maintenance quite significantly,” he said.

Risk of load shedding

Stage 1 load shedding occurs when Eskom needs 1 000MW less usage, Stage 2 when it needs 2 000MW and stage 3 when it needs 4 000MW. The added megawatts would reduce this need and thus load shedding would be unnecessary.

However, load shedding could occur if generators were shut down due to faults and the demand outweighed the capacity, said Phasiwe.

“In winter we need as many of our generators to be working as optimally as possible because we have so much demand,” he said.

The complexity of maintenance

Phasiwe explained why a generator might take a while to repair.

“Sometimes a boiler will leak and that is a big issue for us because it is a very complex procedure,” he said. “You have to turn it off and let it cool down just like an oven - it doesn’t cool down immediately.

“Once it has cooled down, you have to check every single tube to see where the issue is,” he said. “I was recently chatting to an engineer who said that the tubes can be so long that they could run the length of Johannesburg to Durban, or about 600km. So, sometimes it takes time to repair.”

Phasiwe said government was fully behind Eskom in terms of its maintenance-first programme.

“They can see the importance of maintenance and understand that load shedding is necessary to protect the integrity of the power stations,” he said.

eskom  |  load shedding
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