050910 Electricity pylons carry power from Cape Town's Koeberg nuclear power plant July 17, 2009. South Africa will need 20 gigawatts (GW) of new power generation capacity by 2020 and would require double that amount a decade later to meet rising demand, the country's power utility said September 7, 2009. Picture taken July 17, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings (SOUTH AFRICA ENERGY BUSINESS)

A public hearing into Eskom's application for electricity price hikes was disrupted in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) said.

“The public hearing was adjourned due to disruption by members of the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) inside the venue,” spokesman Charles Hlebela said.

In a statement Numsa national spokesman Castro Ngobese denied that union members caused the disruption and called Nersa'a comments “poisonous and malicious”.

“As Numsa, we would like to inform all South Africans that we were as surprised as the regulator when members of the public stormed inside the hearing venue in the opulent and leafy suburb of Summerstand in Port Elizabeth.”

Eskom has asked for a 16 percent increase in electricity prices each year for the next five years.

This would take the price of electricity from 61 cents a kilowatt hour in 2012/13 to 128 cents a kWh in 2017/18 - more than doubling the price over five years.

The current multi-year price determination, MYPD2, ends on March 31, 2013.

The hearing was conducted to allowed members of the public and other interested parties to make submissions.

Ngobese said the disruption was never sanctioned by Numsa or by any of its elected leadership.

“We fully understand the motives and anger behind the disruption of the hearing, but we don’t agree with the approach as carried by members of the public.

“The disruption undermines both their grievances and legitimate demands we are putting on the table, for Nersa not to approve Eskom’s application.”

He said Nersa should consider the views of both union and community leaders to hold these important hearings in areas which are accessible to ordinary communities, “so that these hearings do not become aloof talkshops amongst the elitist or the privileged class”.

Finally, Numsa asked members of the public to adhere to the picketing rules and to allow Nersa to continue with the hearings without any form of disruption or intimidation.

Hlebela said Numsa was demanding Nersa conduct seven public hearings in seven districts of the Eastern Cape, he said.

“Nersa is seriously concerned about the action taken by Numsa members that seeks to prevent the energy regulator from implementing its mandate and denying stakeholders and the public to exercise their democratic right.”

Hlebela said Nersa was notified by Numsa's national office that it was granted permission to picket outside the public hearing venue.

However, the conditions stipulated picketing be restricted to the entrance of the venue at a demarcated area, that no entrance or exits were blocked, and that there were no interference with patrons of the hotel.

“Numsa did not abide to the above conditions and Nersa strongly condemns the actions taken by Numsa members.”

Hlebela said Nersa would continue to conduct the public hearings in other provinces.

“The continuation of the public hearings in the Eastern Cape will be announced in due course.” - Sapa