Torching of vehicles, lack of staff and power station woes cripple Eskom

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The writer asks at what stage of load shedding with citizens be spurred to action. Photo: Getty Images
The writer asks at what stage of load shedding with citizens be spurred to action. Photo: Getty Images
  • Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said the loss of units and protest disruptions have heightened the risk that load shedding will rise to Stage 6 on Tuesday evening. 
  • Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said the utility lost ten units at stations including Medupi, Thuthuka, Duvha, and Kendal.
  • Eskom acting head of generation Rhulani Mathebula said if employees returned to duty soon, the entity would be able to restore the majority of capacity lost.

Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said the power utility was working to restore capacity to power stations to mitigate the "very real risk" of Stage 6 load shedding on Tuesday evening.

Eskom said the loss of further capacity overnight at the utility's operations heightened the risk that Stage 6 load shedding would be implemented. Eskom leadership said obstruction of access to stations by protesting workers escalated to intimidation and the torching of vehicles at various sites.

In an urgent virtual briefing announced and convened on short notice, Eskom management said disruptions to its operations and obstructions to access to its power stations persisted and worsened the country's power situation.

This follows protests at Eskom operations over a wage talks deadlock which plunged South Africa into Stage 4 load shedding last week.

However, Eskom warned that managerial staff currently on site were either being intimidated by striking protestors or were insufficient to address the the constraints at units, worsening the already dire Stage 4 load shedding situation.

De Ruyter said ten units were lost during the period and suffered 5622 MW partial losses and load loss of 14 204 MW. Associated loss occurred due to the unavailability of coal and labour related protests, which took away another 3661 MW of capacity, he said.

"We find ourselves in Stage 4 load shedding already, [and] we have had a significant deterioration overnight. We had 10 units... [that were lost] and as a result it has become necessary to implement Stage 6 load shedding at peak tonight," said De Ruyter.

READ | If power station protests persist, there'll be much more load shedding, Eskom warns

De Ruyter said the entity was working double time to avoid the worsening of load shedding through the day. He said with 31 990 MW of demand and only 24 124 MW available, there was a risk of shortfall, but that Ankerlig and Gourikwa open cycle gas turbines are burning diesel and looking to source more.

"This situation creates substantial risk. We want to restore 4000 MW back to service by this afternoon. If we restore that, we could avert Stage 6. But the risk is there and we are therefore communicating with the public," De Ruyter said.

The CEO said unlawful action continued and intensified overnight as managerial staff braved the capacity needs of stations. De Ruyter warned that even after the strike is over, a maintenance backlog will create significant risk for prolonged load shedding.

"We have seen instances of violence and intimidation. This is, of course to be deplored. Union leadership have disavowed this and they say they are not involved in the intimidation. Eskom has obtained an interdict preventing this kind of action," said De Ruyter.

Eskom management will hold an urgent and confidential meeting with labour later in the morning. It is also attempting to address the backlog and hopefully establish a operating shift that will allow Eskom to restore its capacity.

READ | Protesting Eskom workers block roads to power stations, incidents of intimidation reported

Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said the ten units that were lost included three at Medupi, three and Thuthuka and one at Duvha, and one at Kendal. The entity managed to restore two of the units. Oberholzer said, with appropriate responses, Eskom could avoid Stage 6 load shedding on Tuesday evenign and remain on Stage 4.

"Four of the units will not be able to return to service today due to prolonged maintenance. however two are expected to return today. We hope four can be returned by the evening, although we will not have the benefits of that restoration," said Oberholzer.

Oberholzer said open cycle gas turbines use has increased dramatically and diesel tanks are being put to work and Eskom was working on sourcing diesel for them. 

Eskom acting head of generation Rhulani Mathebula said if employees returned to duty soon, the entity would be able to restore the majority of the capacity which has been lost. Until then "skeleton staff" were working to bring units back to full swing, Mathebula said.

No arrests have been made, although Eskom is considering legal options such as criminal charges. Eskom has not received a date for conciliation at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

On the union front, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is demanding a 12% wage increase, while the National Union of Mineworkers has demands ranging between 8% and 10% and Solidarity is demanding 5.9%.

Eskom revised their offer upwards to 5% and maintains it cannot afford double digit increases.

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