JOHANNESBURG – At a time the country is troubled by load shedding, it has emerged that residents in some municipalities face a double whammy as a result of weak electricity infrastructure.
Eskom has argued at the Constitutional Court that it should not be compelled to supply increased volumes of power to municipalities that have not upgraded their electricity infrastructure.
Transformer explosions, some threatening life and limb, are too common when municipalities are supplied more power than the infrastructure can handle, Eskom says.
The power utility has squared off at the apex court with residents’ associations that want it compelled to increase power supply in their communities.
The Vaal River Development Association and the Lekwa Ratepayers Association, based in Mpumalanga and Free State respectively, have scored victory over Eskom at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in the drawn out matter.
Eskom has resorted to the apex court to try to set aside the SCA ruling, which it maintains exposes it to being successfully sued by communities even in relation to load shedding.
The utility maintains it is implementing load shedding in the interest of the national grid and thereby the society at large.
It says too that it has nothing to do with supply problems in municipalities with weak infrastructure. This position explains its push to appeal the SCA ruling that favours the resident associations.
The two residents associations have won their communities, the Ngwathe local municipality in Free State and Lekwa local municipality in Mpumalanga, the right to increased power supply.
Their victory means Eskom is compelled to supply to the communities the amount of power above what is stipulated in the electricity supply agreements it has with municipalities.
Eskom’s gripe against the associations’ court victory stems from the municipalities not only owing it millions of rands, but their electricity infrastructure is not up to standard to handle increased power supply.
“In this matter, in respect of both municipalities, there were explosions of transformers occasioned by the overloading of the infrastructure,” advocate Sydwell Shangisa SC, representing Eskom, told the bench of the Constitutional Court.
“The municipalities were drawing electricity in excess of what was required without making the contemporaneous upgrades to the infrastructure so that it has capacity to carry more load.”
The upgrades that Eskom says municipalities must carry out before their power supply is increased needs millions of rands.
A whopping R187 million is required by Lekwa municipality, Eskom has said.
Shangisa insists that the infrastructure issues at municipal level cannot be placed at Eskom’s door.
Advocate Herman van Eeden SC, representing the associations, has argued for the SCA order to be upheld.
“We make the submission that the order is correct. The need of the municipality (for increased power supply) has been established,” he said.
Van Eeden insists that the existing infrastructure can handle increased supply of power.
“We know that the infrastructure can supply that need. The supply was done in a safe manner for many years,” he said.
“There was one problem in Ngwathe that related to an Eskom transformer that was not properly maintained. That problem was fixed before the matter came in the SCA.”
Judgment has been reserved.