Durban - Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a public hearing at Durban’s ICC today into Eskom’s application for a series of 16 percent electricity price hikes.

”The only loud voice in support of the tariff increase has been that of the government,” said South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) project co-ordinator, Desmond D’sa.

“(We) are calling on authorities to reject Eskom’s application. The reality is that South African citizens are in for a long ride of suffering because Eskom is failing to deliver clean, affordable and accessible electricity to the (people).”

Eskom has applied for an average price increase of 16 percent for each of the five years of the (multi-year price determination (MYPD) from April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2018.

Protesters carried placards emblazoned with messages such as: “A 16 percent increase means 16 percent more misery” and “Eskom are crooks”.

There were protests outside the hearings in Cape Town on Tuesday and hearings were disrupted in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday.

“The public hearing was adjourned due to disruption by members of the National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) inside the venue,” spokesman, Charles Hlebela, said.

In a statement, Numsa national spokesman, Castro Ngobese, denied that union members caused the disruption and called Nersa’s comments “poisonous and malicious”.

Thursday’s hearings in Durban started with Mohammed Adam, manager of Regulation and Governance at Eskom, making a case for the proposed tariff hikes.

Adam said these were needed to cover costs for supplying power to the country and to invest in future operations. One of the major cost drivers was the price of coal. He said the coal costs were escalating at a higher rate than inflation.

Of the proposed 16 percent, 13 was needed for Eskom’s operational needs and 3 would be used to support new, independent power producers.

He said the power utility had looked at the mechanism to protect the poor.

“We propose protection for the poor through a tariff structure with cross subsidies.”

Urban customers would contribute to subsidise mainly the poor and rural households, said Thsolofelo Molefe, Eskom’s group executive for customer services.

She said these were necessary to protect the poor, but admitted that these subsidies were not sustainable in the long term.

Part of Eskom’s needs related to infrastructure spending.

The power utility would be spending about R337 billion over the next five years on capital expenditure. This includes the completion of the new Kusile power station and also maintaining the existing infrastructure.

The power utility also said it had committed to R30 billion savings.

The poor household would also continue getting free basic electricity of 50 kilowatts (kW) a month, which was government policy. Some municipalities gave more than the 50kW a month.

Thomas Funke, the director of Industrial Affairs at the SA Cane Growers’ Association, said that the industry was among the biggest users of electricity with some of the farms depending on irrigation.

Forecasts by the industry showed that the net operating income would come down by 19.4 percent if the proposed tariffs were effected. Funke said cane growers were already struggling due to high oil and fertiliser prices.

“The increases would render irrigated sugar cane in SA uncompetitive.”

He said this could lead to at least the closure of four mills and could put 35 000 jobs at risk.

This would also impact negatively on food security, he said.

Outside, protesters said the increase, if granted, would push them over the edge.

“I’m a pensioner. My husband died nine years ago. Some months my light bill comes to R900. How am I supposed to manage?” asked Mary-ann van Zyl of Wentworth.

Smitha Deonath, 24, of Merebank, said that the public was being charged more for power because Eskom insisted on selling electricity cheaply to larger companies.

“And we still have to endure their ridiculous power cuts.” - Daily News