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The power-distribution utility in Johannesburg is in talks with Eskom to reduce outages in the city of more than 5 million people.
City Power officials proposed that the duration of the blackouts in Johannesburg be cut to two hours at a time to help businesses cope, spokesman Isaac Mangena said in an interview on Tuesday. The authorities are also discussing alternative sources of energy supply, including solar and gas, as well as initiatives including converting street lights to solar power, he said.
"What we are working on is a plan to cushion our customers from the frequency of load shedding," Mangena said, using the local term for power cuts. "Currently you have customers being switched off for four hours at a time. That is killing a lot of people because you have no productivity for that period. So we have looked at the viability of reducing this to two hours."
State power utility Eskom is subjecting South Africa to outages that add up to as much as half a day because its dilapidated equipment can’t meet demand. The blackouts cost the economy R300 billion last year, or about 5% of gross domestic product, the company said in a briefing this month.
Load shedding is forcing small businesses to cut production time and driving up costs, impacting their profitability. A study by Nedbank, one of the nation’s biggest banks, estimates that two-thirds of small firms in South Africa’s townships have shed jobs because of the power cuts.
They’ve also left City Power in "a very critical state," with the company losing about R3.6 million a day because it has to constantly repair broken equipment and use additional staff to carry out load shedding, Mangena said.
An announcement on the plan to reduce the hours of blackouts in Johannesburg is expected to be made by mid-June, he said.