Wind power producers 'surprised' by Eskom force majeure

Wind energy producers are aggrieved by Eskom's decision to temporarily suspend power supply from their companies during the current national lockdown, saying it was taken without engaging the industry.

On March 25, Eskom issued notices to Independent Power Producers in the wind sector, informing them that it would stop receiving power from them due to low demand for electricity during the shutdown.

The decision came as Eskom said it would be taking some generation units offline "to protect the integrity of the system". On Wednesday night, it announced it would be adding Koeberg Unit 2 - from its nuclear power station near Cape Town - to the list. 

'Force majeure' 

But the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) says the state-owned entity failed to communicate with the wind sector prior to issuing the notices, and that it is seeking legal opinion on whether the reduced demand for electricity constitutes a 'force majeure'.

"It is concerning that wind energy power producers have not been given an opportunity to engage on this matter with Eskom, despite both Eskom and government confirming that operational IPPs are in fact an essential service just five days ago," said the association.

The 22 operational wind farms have a combined installed capacity of 1 980 MW. They described the decision by Eskom as a "surprise".

Eskom indicated that the companies would be compensated for the downtime.

SAWEA Chief Executive Ntombifuthi Ntuli said the industry would meet with Eskom to find a "constructive resolution that does not prejudice the country nor the power producers."

A force majeure is a contractual clause that allows contractors to dishour their obligations in instance of unforeseeable circumstances.

It stated that experts argue that the country is currently "not facing a structural oversupply" and that Eskom is still struggling to keep the system stable, despite shift in demand patterns. 

Eskom has reported a drop of between 7 500MW and 9 000MW in electricity usage since the lockdown came into effect last week. The struggling state-owned power producer, which generates most of the electricity used in the country, had experienced severe supply constraints prior to the shutdown, forcing it to resume rotational load shedding. Some of the problems were said to be caused by unplanned breakdowns.

One of the contributing factors to low demand is that large electricity users, such as mines and smelters, have shut down or are operating at reduced capacity during the lockdown, which started on March 26.

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