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Johannesburg - Eskom’s power supply is being squeezed so tight and the utility’s options of getting more capacity so limited that there are fears of a repeat of the 2008 scenario of mass load shedding.
Business Day newspaper reported on Tuesday that Eskom’s electricity supply was on a knife-edge, and in the past month, the utility had to buy back power from businesses.
The report said Eskom was buying 1 000MW back from big power users as it tries to increase capacity ahead of winter.
The situation at the power utility has worsened in the past month because of problems at Koeberg’s unit 1 plant, which is now being repaired, and damage to the transmission line from Cahora Bassa in Mozambique, caused by floods.
Eskom’s financial director, Paul O’Flaherty, is quoted as saying that because of these problems, maintenance had been kept to a minimum and unplanned outages were becoming more frequent.
Maintenance is usually done in the summer months in preparation for increased demand in winter.
If this maintenance has been cut back, there are concerns that the lights will go out this winter.
DA public enterprises spokeswoman Natasha Michael has called for Minister Malusi Gigaba to explain how the parastatal intends to prevent blackouts similar to what happened in 2008.
“Apart from wanting to buy back an additional 1 000 megawatts from big industries, Eskom does not appear to have any other solution to the matter,” Michael said.
She suggested that the R120 billion Medupi project be completed by the end of this year as planned to help steady the energy supply.
“We cannot afford a repeat of the 2008 blackouts. This will impact severely on the economy, slowing down production and leading to an inevitable shedding of jobs,” Michael said.
Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said their system had been very tight in the past few weeks, with at least 1 000MW of power from Mozambique not coming in, an additional 900MW from Koeberg off the grid, and more not coming in because power stations had been volatile due to maintenance backlogs.
Joffe would not state if load shedding was on the cards this winter, saying Eskom was doing everything possible to keep energy flowing, including the buybacks from business as well as encouraging energy-saving measures in households, such as timer devices on geysers.
“It is our mandate to keep the lights on, and we are trying, but nobody said we can do this alone. There is no question we need help,” said Joffe in response to questions surrounding load shedding.
Dick Kruger, from the Chamber of Mines, said the mining industry had been paid by Eskom to relinquish its demand on a daily basis, but these requests were increased in the past week.
Kruger said many mines also reduced power voluntarily and scheduled their own maintenance to suit Eskom’s schedule when power demand was high.
He said he personally knew of one big platinum mining company that sold Eskom 90 to 100MW of power every day in the past week.
Mike Rossouw, chairman of the Energy Intensive Users Group, said Eskom’s generating capacity was almost continually in short supply.
“The question is how do we get through these tight times?” Rossouw asked.
He said Eskom had an emergency capacity in its very-expensive-to-use gas turbines. They had been operating in the past week in an attempt to stop rolling blackouts.