More power woes

2012-03-30 00:00

MSUNDUZI has turned to its metro neighbour, Ethekwini, to help save it from losing its electricity distribution licence, amid overwhelming power challenges in the municipality.

Msunduzi municipal manager Mxolisi Nkosi yesterday said Durban had been approached to second a process manager until the capital could find a suitable candidate to head the electricity department.

He was speaking after members of the executive committee were told that the municipality could lose its electricity distribution licence due to non-compliance with the law if it failed to hire a process manager for the electricity department.

Nkosi disclosed that of the 40 transformers in the city only three could still be maintained and 37 would need to be replaced, “which is a huge challenge for the city”.

The municipality would need R700 million over five years to deal with electricity infrastructure challenges.

He was speaking at an Exco briefing by representatives of the Independent Development Trust (IDT), an implementing agency that entered into a tripartite agreement with the municipality and the Department of Energy in December to solve the city electricity challenges.

The municipality was dealt a huge blow when the process manager for electricity, Maxwell Mthembu, resigned in October to join the Ethekwini metro.

IDT project manager Sizwe Zulu presented an disturbing picture of the state of electricity in Msunduzi following a three- month assessment.

On the “severe loss of value and serviceability of immovable infrastructure assets” he noted that a total collapse of the network could be a future scenario.

“The … situation in the municipality is such that limited or no maintenance is done. The typical example is the Hilton line, which is currently under pressure.”

He said a licensed distributor, such as Msunduzi, must have the capacity to operate and maintain the electricity infrastructure. There were serious challenges in this regard.

Zulu said the municipality was also required in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to urgently appoint a qualified engineer. “This action will further assist in correcting the human capacity challenge currently experienced by the municipality.”

However, Zulu acknowledged that the current state of the infrastructure made it difficult for the individual to take responsibility.

He warned that major assets such as transformers’ switch gears and protection relays were either old or not functioning at all.

They had far surpassed their lifespan and “results of these will be a loss of life by the electricians conducting maintenance of operating the system”.

He said the central control room for electricity was a matter of serious concern. “The centre is like a pilot without a radar. The operator will not successfully isolate the system as a result of a lack of reliable communication between the control centre and the equipment on site. This put lives of municipal personnel at risk as these can cause fatal accidents which could cause loss of life.”

On revenue collection, he said consumers were not billed properly because a number of electricity meters had been reported broken. “Revenue collection is affected to such an extent that the increasing loss of revenue limits regular maintenance and resources due to insufficient funding”.

He said the municipality needed a proper maintenance budget and to employ trained people like engineers and ato have spares or reserve material for maintenance.

It also needed equipment like trucks and cranes.

A shocked Democratic Alliance caucus leader, Bill Lambert, asked:“Is there hope for the city?”

Zulu replied there was indeed hope because of the political leadership’s support at municipal and national level.

Nkosi said a short-listing panel had been appointed and the process of interviewing candidates for the process manager post would start soon.

“We should be able to fill this position by the end of April, but for compliance in the meantime we have approached Ethekwini Metro Municipality to second a person who will assist us while we still look for a suitable incumbent to head our electricity department.”

Nkosi said there was hope because the Deputy Energy Affairs Minister, Barbara Thomson, had committed herself to providing funds for the municipality.

However, the municipality and IDT needed to come up with a business plan, which included a maintenance plan, in order to get the funding.

“Otherwise the department will not support us …” he added.

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