The risk to Eskom’s power generation capacity is growing as strikes at five mines of coal supplier Exxaro enter a ninth day today.
Even though Eskom maintains it has enough coal stockpiles for 40 days, the ongoing strike could hamper power generation ahead of the winter season, a period of higher energy use.
By late yesterday, there appeared to be no end in sight to the Exxaro workers’ strike as business bodies grew increasingly concerned about the damage the dispute might inflict on the economy.
The Chamber of Mines sounded an alarm about the potential effect of the strike on the country’s energy generation capacity.
“The concern is that it seems to be gradually spreading to other mines,” Vusi Mabena, a senior executive at the chamber, said.
“Everybody needs to be concerned about possible challenges of supply to electricity generation if the strike is not contained.”
Exxaro, one of Eskom’s four largest suppliers of coal, is bewildered by a strike across many shafts by workers demanding performance bonuses. This, along with reported sabotage of trucks delivering coal, means a significant dip in the coal it supplies to the power utility.
Production at the Arnot, Matla, Grootegeluk, Leeuwpan and Inyanda collieries and the Reductants char plant halted as employees downed tools over the non-payment of performance bonuses.
The Arnot and Matla mines in Mpumalanga provide fuel to power stations that provide 10 percent of Eskom’s capacity.
The Matla mine produces 12 million tons of coal a year on average for the Matla power station, with an installed capacity of 3 600 megawatts, while Arnot mine produces 2.2 million tons on average for the 2 100MW Arnot power station.
A senior Exxaro official said this week that Matla only had two days worth of coal stockpiles remaining.
“At Matla we have the biggest challenge. The mine is the sole supplier to the power station and due to logistical issues, the company would not be able to source the coal from third parties,” he said.
Exxaro’s Arnot mine only has 19 days worth of stockpiles remaining.
Reports were that the Grootegeluk mine had 40 days of stock.
Eskom was also grappling with strike action at its Medupi power station in Limpopo over pay this week.
Unconfirmed reports yesterday evening were that the Medupi strike had come to an end and workers were expected to report back to work this morning.
Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe would not be drawn on the specifics of coal stockpiles, save to say that the power utility had 48 days of coal stocks across its fleet of power stations.
“We are concerned about the risks which sustained strike action could have for security of supply. This is especially so, given that the power system is very tight at present, because of reduced imports from Mozambique, and one unit of Koeberg being out of service and volatile performance of the power stations,” Joffe said.
She was adamant that the stockpiles were higher than at the time of the 2008 power crisis, when coal stock days had fallen to about six days on average, leading to Eskom initiating load-shedding.
Earlier this week, the parastatal was reported to have undertaken extraordinary measures, which included buying another 1 000MW from energy-intensive industries.
By yesterday, the end to the Exxaro strike seemed distant as employees were obstinate about not returning to the coal face until the company had paid their bonus.
“Irrespective if the country goes into darkness, workers want what is due to them. They don’t care; they say they cannot be exploited,” National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch secretary Mxolisi Hoboyi said.
Hoboyi confirmed that Exxaro workers had sabotaged delivery of coal to the company’s Matla plant.
“I received a report that employees forced a truck to offload coal on its way to Matla. In Arnot this morning, a truck was forced to offload coal on the road,” he said.
An Exxaro spokesman said he could not confirm that the trucks had been offloaded.
A meeting between the national leadership of the NUM and Exxaro management was expected late yesterday.
Exxaro shares fell 1.06 percent to R164.05 yesterday.