Struggles ahead

2019-03-27 06:01
Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan at yesterday’s briefing on Eskom. ‘We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load shedding shifts to other crises (like a water crisis because plants go down in power cuts),’ he said. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan at yesterday’s briefing on Eskom. ‘We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load shedding shifts to other crises (like a water crisis because plants go down in power cuts),’ he said. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

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ESKOM has started planning for Stage 5 and Stage 6 load shedding to avoid a national blackout, as the energy turmoil wreaks havoc on city businesses.

The new stages will aim to shed 5 000 MW and 6 000 MW of electricity respectively, with Eskom having previously said it could go up to Stage 8.

Stage 8 load shedding could leave a specific consumer without power for six or seven out of the 12 load shedding slots per day. Each slot is two-and-a-half hours long, with consecutive slots overlapping by half an hour.

Later, Eskom tweeted that it did not mean it was formally planning to use stages 5 and 6, only that it was planning for that contingency.

As South Africa entered the fourth day of Stage 4 load shedding yesterday, Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan said there could be regular blackouts on the cards.

The briefing yesterday made it clear that the national power supply is more precarious than previously thought.

“It will be a huge struggle to overcome this crisis,” said Gordhan.

“We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load shedding shifts to other crises (like a water crisis because plants go down in power cuts). We are committed to rebuilding the energy supply and energy confidence.”

He said government will work with National Treasury to speed up emergency measures to maintain Eskom’s power station fleet.

South Africa has bought all available diesel on the high seas to run emergency power while maintenance of power plants is in crisis because of boiler tubes bursting at eight units across three power stations. To make matters worse, there is a strike planned for early April.

But Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza said yesterday that they were “very far from a point of total blackout”.

Msunduzi spokesperson Thobeka Mafumbatha yesterday could not provide schedules for Stages 4, 5 or 6, telling The Witness that the City was waiting for Eskom to provide them with schedules. She referred The Witness to Msunduzi’s website, where only load shedding schedules for Stages 1 to 3 are available.

CEO of the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business, Melanie Veness, said load shedding had a serious impact on manufacturers in the city because the lack of a proper schedule left them un­able to plan around it.

“The consequences are far larger than just switching off power for a period of time,” she told The Witness.

“The load shedding is not aligned with shift changes and most of the time it’s in the middle of a shift. Most manufacturers have highly sophisticated machinery that, if it goes down as a result of surges, they have to import repairs from overseas. The plant and equipment is subject to damage when the power switches off.

“We have engaged with the City to develop a voluntary load shedding plan for businesses to ensure that load shedding doesn’t affect operations.”

Energy expert Ted Blom said Eskom was being disingenuous about load load shedding. “[On Monday] Eskom had cut 4 900 MW of power — that’s more than Stage 4, which goes up to 4 000 MW. So we [have] already experienced Stage 5.”

Blom said Eskom had presented “an ‘Alice In Wonderland’ representation of their operations, and I don’t think they’re capable of changing it. They are just experimenting and treating us as guinea pigs.”

Easing the crisis slightly is that a ship with diesel stocks will dock tomorrow. In nine days’ time, the government will report back with an updated diagnosis of South Africa’s power woes.

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