Striking Eskom workers hamper efforts to keep the lights on

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The utility would be taking disciplinary action against workers who stayed away unlawfully.Photo: Gallo Images
The utility would be taking disciplinary action against workers who stayed away unlawfully.Photo: Gallo Images


Absenteeism by striking workers had been causing a strain to the outlook of the availability of power, Eskom said on Friday.

The power utility said its representative, together with the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, were locked in talks on Friday over a revised wage offer. It’s understood the unions are consulting with workers over an apparent 7% across-the-board offer.

Eskom’s chief executive Adre de Ruyter said:

The key issue is the return to allow us to lift load shedding. As I said, there are about three stages of load shedding because of unlawful industrial action. That is the major factor putting us in a position that we are in now.

He added that the utility would be taking disciplinary action against workers who stayed away unlawfully.

“That may include the application of the principle of no work no pay. Where there are acts of intimidation and violence, the Eskom disciplinary code will apply and we will process the various investigations accordingly, and where there are criminal acts, these will be reported to the SAPS. If sufficient evidence is found, cases will be handed over to the NPA for prosecution.”

Eskom uses 14 litres of diesel per second per generation unit to keep the lights on. The power company said there were challenges with diesel volumes from suppliers; however, overnight diesel was delivered to some of its gas turbines, providing a bit of reserve at these power stations.

De Ruyter said although dam levels and the diesel levels had improved, it was important to note that these were still at very low levels and they’ll need at least time over the weekend to fully replenish.

He explained elevated Brent crude oil prices had not helped the situation.

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“The total spent for June was R1.54 billion against a budget of R700 million, so we spent double the amount allocated to that. It continues the trend we’ve seen for the year. We’ve seen so far in our financial year R4.14 billion versus a budget of R1.99 billion on diesel. Some of it is due to higher diesel prices because of very high crude oil prices, but we have also been consuming more substantial diesel prices to avoid load shedding.”

A total of 13 609 megawatts units was out because of unplanned losses, while 3 104 megawatts were out on planned maintenance, he said.

Eskom’s chief operating officer Jan Oberholzer said 2 709 megawatts of generation capacity were unavailable due to the strike.

“The effect of the strike is that 2 709 megawatts (or three stages of load shedding) of generation capacity is unavailable due to the lack of operators. We also do not have time currently to attend to some of the damage that has occurred during this period. Over and above the 2 500 megawatts that are not available, there is a further 2 600 megawatts of generation that is at risk due to the prolonged unlawful and illegal strike.”

De Ruyter added that the country could expect stage 6 load shedding to resume at 4pm on Friday to due inadequate capacity. He said the demand was expected to be over 30 000 megawatts for the evening, while available capacity, excluding open cycle turbines, was only 26 533 megawatts.

“Our reserves are running low. This is something that we are addressing. We are sourcing additional diesel supply from where we can. We have not replenished our dams as much as we would like to and, therefore, we are going to have to return to stage 6 load shedding to make sure that we can safely navigate through our peak periods.”

The pylon from the Cahora Bassa line from Mozambique should be restored towards the end of Sunday and will provide an additional 600 megawatts to the grid.

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“This evening, we are expecting to return the unit that tripped at Medupi and Duvha power stations. This will definitely relieve the pressure on the system, but the late return to service will only be insufficient to stave off the stage 6 load shedding tonight.

“The return to service of other units is being delayed due to a lack of operating staff available at the power station to return these units,” added Oberholzer.


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