Eskom's Grootvlei power station. The seriously constrained power supply has, since 2008, resulted in the loss of roughly 13 percent of opportune economic growth, writes Roger Toms. Photo: Bloomberg
Eskom's Grootvlei power station. The seriously constrained power supply has, since 2008, resulted in the loss of roughly 13 percent of opportune economic growth, writes Roger Toms. Photo: Bloomberg

Eskom ignorance just short of criminal

By Time of article published Nov 10, 2014

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THE COLLAPSE of the Majuba power station coal silo, aka a bunker, typifies the mess that Eskom has created over the years and indicates that they are truly inept. One suspects that Eskom management prefers the term “silo” to avoid any possible confusion when making one of their frequent trips to the golf course! For management to take no corrective action on such an obvious defect, irrespective of its cause, is nothing short of damning, and they are still waiting for proof of reports.

One can almost forgive Eskom for being unable to deal with the intricacies of large turbo-generating sets, boiler feed-water pumps and coal mills, even destruction of an entire generator set while testing the emergency trip system, but ignoring a large concrete structure screaming out for help is little short of criminal.

This is even more alarming in the light of Eskom salaries which should be able to attract some of the best engineering and managerial talent available, but Eskom’s managerial heads are so far up their political posteriors that they could not recognise “engineer” if it was written on the inside of their eyelids.

One can only sympathise with Andrew Etzinger who is often trotted out to make appropriate excuses for those who have clearly misrepresented their technical or managerial capabilities.

The poor man has seemingly aged 20 years since 2008, probably because he always has to report on such a dismal outlook and Eskom being unable to operate ageing infrastructure, despite the rest of the world having no such problem. His last message was that over 20 percent of the country’s generating capacity was unavailable because of unplanned outages (aka stuff-ups) and that their pumped storage schemes were running out of stored water, to make meeting of peak demand even less attainable.

The most alarming factor is that reported some months ago by the Free Market Foundation, that the seriously constrained power supply has, since 2008, resulted in the loss of some 13 percent of opportune economic growth.

Even if we accept this as only an approximation, it translates into Eskom alone being responsible for unemployment being above 25 percent, rather than significantly below 20 percent, where it could have been if industry had had the energy supply which it required. Further, the coal miners have missed out on the sale of at least 10 percent of what should have been Eskom’s coal consumption for 5 to 6 years: it is little wonder that the coal miners are not prepared to cut any decent coal supply deals for our power stations.

The escape from the bunker is simple. Sell off a 50 percent interest in Eskom’s generating capacity to a professional power station operator and quickly, while it still has value, before Eskom reduces the whole business to scrap value. Otherwise, we must wait for private industry to build enough wind turbines and hope that our winds blow strongly!

Roger Toms

Hout Bay

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