File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town – Just as President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday tried to allay fears over the country’s critical power system by saying the government was “taking all necessary measures” to turn parastatals around, Eskom announced it was moving from Stage 4 to Stage 6 load shedding.

About 500 people were stuck on top of Table Mountain when a back-up generator belonging to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) failed to kick into gear.

TMACC managing director Wahida Parker said: “Power surges are believed to have caused the failure of our generator. Visitors who were at the bottom waiting to go up are being offered free tickets for an alternative day. 

“It was a great mixture of people. There were some overseas visitors in the group – the group was approximately 500 people.

"There were elderly people, families with children and, as per our processes, we brought down the infirm and mothers with babies first. We managed to bring everybody down by nine o'clock.

"Our technical team is monitoring the impact of the sudden implementation of Stage 6 load shedding to best accommodate our visitors in a safe and responsible manner. 

"We are doing everything within our power to make sure any visitor’s experience of Table Mountain is a positive one, even under these extreme conditions.”

Parker said experts have been brought in to fix the generator.

“We’re closed for today as we repair the generator. We have also embarked on discussions with the City to consider an exception to have less load shedding,” she said. 

Parker told TimesLive it would be "impossible" to operate the cableway if Stage 6 load shedding, resulting in five hours without electricity a day, continued.

“If the load shedding continues this way, it will be impossible for us to give our visitors, who are mostly foreign, the best possible experience of  Table Mountain.” 

Stage 6 was active from 6pm until 11pm yesterday. Eskom said it had lost additional generation units, increasing unplanned breakdowns (UCLF) to 14 200MW. 

"With a higher demand of about 600MW and a shortage of capacity, this “necessitates load shedding” to move from Stage 2 to Stage 4 and then Stage 6 as of last night.

On Sunday night, Eskom said the probability of load shedding remained high for the week due to a shortage of capacity.

“This follows a technical problem at Medupi Power Station affecting additional generation supply. The heavy rains have caused coal handling and operational problems at several power stations. 

"In addition, with the incessant rains, we are beginning to experience flooding at some power stations, which have further led to load losses and have affected supply as the rainy weather persists.

‘‘We continue to utilise diesel and water resources at our open cycle gas turbines and pumped storage schemes respectively, to supplement capacity,” Eskom said.

Eskom said its emergency response command centre and technical teams were working through the night to restore units as soon as possible.

Ramaphosa said the construction of Medupi, the fourth-largest power station of its kind in the world, was part of Eskom’s financial troubles.

“The cost of building the power station has escalated dramatically since its building started.

‘‘It is behind schedule, and with five of its six units now in commercial operation, it is not yet performing at the level it is expected to perform.

"The problems with the construction of Medupi and its ‘twin’, Kusile account for much of the financial crisis at Eskom. 

"There have been other factors, of course, not least of which are the effects of state capture, corruption, loss and shortage of essential skills and mismanagement.”

Ramaphosa said a vital part of the turnaround effort was to reduce the dependence of state-owned entities on bailouts and guarantees from the government.

Eskom chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer didn't altogether rule out Stage 8 load shedding on Monday, cautioning that generating plants remain unpredictable and unreliable.

“What Stage 8 means is that we need to shed 8 000MW. Do we see ourselves getting there? We trust and hope that we never get there but never is a long time,” Oberholzer said.

Meanwhile, the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation Department has warned residents that some areas may experience intermittent supply interruptions should the Stage 6 load shedding continue.  

Read: Load shedding schedules

Cape Times