After billions in cost overruns, design flaws, delays and load shedding, Medupi is finally complete

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Medupi power station near Lephalale in Limpopo.
Medupi power station near Lephalale in Limpopo.
Lucky Nxumalo

Six years after the first unit began supplying power to the grid, the sixth and last generating unit at Eskom's Medupi coal power station in Lephalale, Limpopo, has finally reached commercial operation. 

It is the fourth-largest coal-fired plant and the largest dry-cooled power station in the world, and has been beset by cost overruns and significant design issues that led to major delays in the project. Breakdowns of units had often contributed to the recent spate of load shedding. 

Eskom said on Monday morning that commercial operation on Unit 1 "marks the completion of all building activities on the 4 764 MW project". 

"This is an investment that will serve generations of the people of South Africa and power the economy for at least the next half-century," Bheki Nxumalo, group executive for Eskom’s group capital division, said in a statement. 

"What remains for the Medupi project is the last part of implementing the agreed technical solutions related to the boiler design defects on the balance of plant. Once these repairs are completed during the next 24 months, Medupi will reliably deliver power to the national grid at full capacity, helping increase energy security for the country," said Nxumalo.

The station had an initial expected cost of R80 billion, which was revised several times, reaching an estimated cost of R234 billion in 2019. 

In January last year, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan told Fin24 that South Africans are paying up to four times more for electricity than a decade ago – and that’s due to finance stealing and cost overruns at the Medupi and Kusile power stations.

"It's because of tariff increases, and that’s to pay for Medupi and Kusile overruns, all the stealing that happened. It's for all the extra you’re paying for coal and maintenance and to original equipment manufacturers, et cetera. And it’s the ordinary citizen and the economy that’s paying the cost," Gordhan told Fin24 in an interview.

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