File picture: Reuters/ Mike Hutchings

PORT ELIZABETH - The Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber on Monday condemned the ongoing, drastic load shedding crisis and said Eskom's silence on the subject was deafening.

The parastatal has implemented rotational load-shedding since last week, escalating these to Stage 4 - which means taking 4 000 megawatts off the national grid, in recent days.

NMB Business Chamber CEO Nomkhita Mona said the fact that Eskom deemed it necessary to resort to such drastic power cuts, indicated that the country’s energy supply was in a state of emergency. 

"Yet there has been no transparency from Eskom around what has caused such a significant and sudden lack of capacity – or why it is taking so long to remedy the situation." 

The chamber called on Eskom to make known the reasons behind the heavy load shedding, as well as their plans for resolving the situation as soon as possible. 

Mona said that in the meantime, the economy was being crippled and businesses were left in the dark, unable to perform their most basic functions without electricity. 

"Since many of these businesses are not equipped to generate their own electricity, owners are forced to close their doors and forfeit a large portion of their daily income – all while still contending with exorbitant tariff increases. If this pattern continues, it will lead to permanent closures and job losses." 

Mona said at Eskom’s hand, business and residents were subjected to a way of life that was unsustainable and unacceptable. He said innovative solutions were needed to break a destructive cycle of consumers funding a dysfunctional parastatal that was unable to deliver on its primary mandate. 

On Sunday, the public enterprises ministry released a statement saying Minister Pravin Gordhan had met the Eskom board and management at the weekend about the financial and restructuring issues confronting the utility. 

Board members and Gordhan were briefed over several hours about power supply shortages caused by problems with coal supply and the quality of coal provided to Eskom, low dam storage levels at hydro-plants, diesel supply shortages both to the country and to Eskom, the collapse of power supply imported from Cahora Bassa due to the natural disaster in Mozambique, and a large number of tube failures and breakdowns at local coal-fired power stations. 

During this time, the effects of the cyclone in Mozambique and Zimbabwe that caused havoc in both countries, also resulted in the collapse of transmissions from Cahora Bassa and Eskom moved to Stage 4 load shedding.  

“It is clear that greater urgency needs to be applied to acquire equipment necessary for urgent maintenance. We agree with South Africans that the continuation of frequent load shedding, and in particular stage four load shedding, is unacceptable and disruptive to our economy,” said Gordhan. 

The National Treasury and the department of public enterprises committed to assisting Eskom to fast-track, with the appropriate oversight, the procurement of essential goods and services that is required to urgently rehabilitate and repair generating units at local power stations. 

Closer examination is also required of the quality of coal delivered to and accepted at Eskom power stations and the further delegation of powers from Eskom’s head office to power station managers, Gordhan said. 

The Technical Review Team for Eskom began its work last week and will intensify its review of operations at power plants this week. 

The team will provide important information about plant unit failures and what urgent measures can be implemented to ensure power stations operate at optimal levels. The public were requested to understand that many power stations were between 37 and 50 years old and many operate at sub-optimal levels due to their age. 

“We have asked Eskom to work with municipalities that supply power to large industrial users and businesses to minimise the disruptive effects of load shedding for our economy,” Gordhan said. 

Calls to Eskom's Acting Head of Generation, Andrew Etzinger went unanswered. Eskom acknowledged written media queries and was due to respond. 

African News Agency (ANA)