Load shedding worsened traffic congestion on the main route to the Durban port yesterday. Picture: Leon Lestrade African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Eskom’s surprise announcement of rolling blackouts yesterday has angered energy experts, businesses, political parties and civic organisations, who said this would mark a death knell for small businesses.

Chief economist at Efficient Group, Dawie Roodt, said a day without electricity was detrimental to the country’s already struggling economy, and could push many businesses over the edge.

Speaking to The Mercury yesterday, Roodt said load shedding would have a “devastating” impact on particularly smaller businesses, who were barely surviving.

“Some businesses can’t go a day without electricity, and this latest announcement would be enough to push them over the edge,” he said.

Eskom instituted stage 2 rotational load shedding from 9am to 11pm yesterday, days after it announced that the National Energy Regulator of South Africa’s decision in March to award it lower annual tariff increases than requested had worsened its financial sustainability.

Roodt predicted South Africa’s economic growth would be less than half a percent this year, depending on how long load shedding would continue.

The power utility, which is in debt to the tune of R450billion, announced that load shedding was expected to last for the rest of the week.

Eskom said the severe power constraints that triggered load shedding were due to a broken coal conveyor belt at Medupi power station.

In addition, five electricity generating units were unavailable due to boiler tube leaks.

In a statement to the media yesterday, the parastatal also attributed the switch-off to delays in servicing units and limited diesel supply.

It said it had to implement load shedding “in order to protect the power system from a total collapse”.

“A conveyor belt supplying Medupi power station in Limpopo with coal failed on Saturday, which cut the station’s power output by half,” Eskom said.

Since Saturday, the utility had had to use pumped storage and open-cycle gas turbines “extensively” to make up for the electricity shortfall, which led to a decline in the dam levels and diesel tank levels.

“To avoid load shedding, unplanned breakdowns needed to be contained at below 9500MW during the maintenance period. In the event that generator breakdowns are experienced beyond 10500MW, there will be high usage of emergency resources such as diesel and pumped storage generators, which may lead to load shedding.

“Unplanned breakdowns have now exceeded this limit, triggering load shedding.”

Eskom urged citizens to check their load-shedding schedules on the Eskom or municipal website.

Energy expert Chris Yelland said the latest catastrophe was “an unfortunate coincidence of unplanned breakdowns”.

He said load shedding occurred when the demand for electricity exceeded the supply.

“We don’t have all the information at this point, but we are hoping that repairs are done by the end of the week. However, there could very well be more breakdowns, so we will just have to wait and see,” Yelland said.

Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business, chief executive, Melanie Veness, said load shedding could be “the final nail in the coffin for some businesses”.

“It’s a really tough economy out there. I’ve got a number of enterprises teetering on the brink of closure, and several industry members preparing for significant retrenchments.

“To add load shedding to this mix is unconscionable. It’s not inconvenient, it’s catastrophic, and the consequences are grave - it will cost jobs.

“We’re supposed to be creating a conducive environment for business to operate in, but this makes it near impossible to operate at all - it’s an untenable situation and is inexcusable,” Veness said.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse said Eskom was not improving public confidence in the economy.

“While we understand the hangover from previous leadership, the excuses of malfunctioning boilers and conveyor belts, among other matters, will fall on deaf ears, especially with the massive increases in electricity tariffs thrust on the consumer over the past decade,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Wayne Duvenage.

The DA’s Natasha Mazzone warned the cash-strapped Eskom against using load shedding as a bargaining tool for more money.

“The recurrence of rolling blackouts come as no surprise to the DA as we have long held the view that Eskom’s turnaround strategies and recovery plans have amounted to nothing,” she said.

The Mercury