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Load shedding to return, eThekwini Municipality unpacks fragile state of electricity infrastructure

Durban’s electricity and water infrastructure is under severe strain, with eThekwini Municipality admitting that both services were operating in an emergency capacity.

File Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jul 5, 2022

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Durban - Durban’s electricity and water infrastructure is under severe strain, with eThekwini Municipality admitting that both services were operating in an emergency capacity.

In a joint statement with Eskom issued yesterday, the city announced the return of load shedding in Durban.

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The statement also revealed that the city’s infrastructure was fragile and switching it on and off could make it “trip” thereby prolonging electricity and water supply outages.

The municipality has been exempted from load shedding since the city suffered extensive damage to its infrastructure as a result of the floods in April.

Following the storm damage, the municipality met with Eskom and communicated that it was not in a position to implement load shedding.

The statement yesterday said studies indicated that in the aftermath of the disaster, the city lost 50% (between 700MW to 800MW) of electrical load on their electrical infrastructure. To date, a significant portion of this load has not been restored and will continue to be off the grid until extensive repairs are carried out.

The city said there was an understanding that the integrity of the electrical infrastructure was so severely compromised that if parts of the infrastructure

and loads were to trip, either through a manual intervention (load shedding) or an electrical fault, it was possible and likely that the municipality power grid could be even more severely damaged, lengthening the duration of the outage.

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The statement said both Eskom and the municipality were mindful that further electrical damage would severely compromise the city’s current water rationing programme.

“As a result there is agreement that the municipality is operating in an emergency capacity for both electrical and water services,” the statement said. The revelations have shocked ratepayers and the business community alike, with the latter warning that this could further delay the re-opening of some businesses closed by storm damage.

The ratepayers said the risk associated with the city’s fragile infrastructure was as a result of decades of poor maintenance and failure to plan.

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In the statement, the municipality said it has agreed on the process for the “soonest” implementation of load shedding to assist Eskom to mitigate the risk of a national grid collapse.

The municipality said it had further assessed the long-term strategy to implement load shedding as soon as possible to the equivalent load as was the case prior to the disaster.

The statement said the municipality was committed to implement load shedding in a safe and sustainable manner in consultation with Eskom when the national grid is at risk.

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“If for any reason, after load shedding in the first few instances, a negative

impact on the electrical and water infrastructure is deemed to be unacceptably high, the municipality will need to engage with Eskom immediately,” the statement said.

While the statement from Eskom and the city did not indicate a date for load shedding to be implemented, eThekwini head of electricity Maxwell Mthembu told eNCA that by August 1, they wanted to be in a position to be able to implement it.

Palesa Phili, chief executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said load shedding put serious strain on business operations and the economy of the city.

“It resulted in loss of productivity, revenue and unplanned operational expenditure across industries and their value chains.

“The implementation of load shedding will further delay re-opening of businesses in Durban post the April floods.

“Most businesses, particularly in the South Basin, had earmarked August 2022 as the month of resuming operations post the floods, however the implementation of load shedding will further delay the process and this will disturb the economic value chain.

“As organised business, we encourage businesses to explore alternative sources of energy to help ensure operations are uninterrupted,” said the Phili.

Navin Dookran of the Clare Estate Ratepayers’ Association said the city should take the blame for its infrastructure being fragile.

“Our infrastructure has not been upgraded in 40 years in some areas so the city cannot cope with the (switch) on and off,” Dookran said, adding that the city needs to account for its failure to plan and manage the infrastructure over the past decades.

Economic analyst Professor Bonke Dumisa said businesses across the country suffered even when there was just two hours of load shedding.

“Gauteng is responsible for 40% of the country’s GDP and if they are going through all these stages of load shedding, so should we.”

Dumisa said in the aftermath of the flood, it was understandable that Eskom agreed to exempt Durban from load shedding and that was generous, but now the municipality would have to contend with the power cuts like everyone else in the country.

He said the concerns that the infrastructure was fragile could not be used to excuse the city from load shedding.

“The Western Cape has been complaining about the very same thing, that they cannot be turning their infrastructure on and off, and they have found a way to manage that situation.”

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