Johannesburg - Eskom will cut back plans to repair plants during the South African winter to ensure the country has enough electricity as the colder months approach, Energy Minister Ben Martins said.

Eskom started rolling blackouts for the first time in six years last month, shutting shops and factories, after it declared an emergency as heavy rains disrupted supplies of coal, which it burns for 80 percent of its power.

The company is spending 500 billion rand through 2017 adding almost 11,000 megawatts of capacity to the national grid and servicing its aging fleet of facilities.

“What we seek to do is to obviate the challenge we had a couple of weeks ago,” Martins said on state-owned SABC television.

“We are assuring that as winter approaches, we will not have blackouts; we are ensuring that the maintenance that Eskom has to carry out will be reduced as much as possible over winter.”

As part of its plan to reduce demand for electricity from Eskom’s coal-fired plants, the Energy Department wants consumers to use liquified petroleum gas for heating and cooking, Deputy Director-General Ompi Aphane said.

The country is importing “a huge quantity” of gas from neighbours such as Mozambique to ensure sufficient supply, Martins said.

The Energy Department will make an announcement on the government’s nuclear plans in two months’ time at the latest, he said.

South Africa intends to set up 9,600 megawatts of nuclear-energy capacity as aged coal-fired plants need to be taken out of service from 2020 to 2030, Aphane said.

About 25 percent of Eskom’s 42,500 megawatts of installed capacity has been out of service this year, according to Bloomberg calculations made using the company’s data.

One megawatt is enough to power about 200 middle-income South African homes at peak times, Andrew Etzinger, a spokesman for the utility, said on March 7. - Bloomberg News