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The town of Frankfort in the Free State managed to keep the lights on for longer by buying solar power from a private producer - until Eskom said no. Residents and local businesses say they are suffering as a result.
The company Rural Maintenance, which manages power distribution on behalf of the Mafube municipality in Frankfort, Tweeling, Villiers and Cornelia, uses solar power that it purchases from a private supplier.
When the amount of solar power it uses is more than the amount it has to save during load shedding, it keeps the lights on in Frankfort. However, Eskom stopped this practice and the dispute was referred to the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa), City Press reported.
Eskom said it had given the company permission to manage load shedding itself for a trial period of three months starting in February, but trouble started when Rural Maintenance started diverging from the approved schedule during the day when the solar plant delivered optimum power, Netwerk24 reported. Eskom said this was not in line with the Nersa code of conduct, since Eskom would still have to provide some power to the town during load shedding if the solar can't supply the entire town.
Rural Free State, the parent company of Rural Maintenance, then brought an urgent application in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to allow it to continue the initiative until Nersa made a decision.
The judge ruled on 20 April that the "applicants' case is not properly before the court and therefore ... stands to fail" because they failed to produce an affidavit confirming the municipality "had authorised the institution of this application", TimesLive reported.
Residents told AFP about their frustrations.
"If they are not going to allow us to use the solar farm or to use our own electricity, we don’t have any choice, we will have to take the law into our own hands. It’s a matter of survival," said farmer Hans Pretorius. "We cannot, we cannot allow Eskom and Nersa to prevent us from solving the problem that was created by Eskom. They can’t produce any electricity and we are not allowed to use the electricity that we produce. It doesn’t make sense."
"The court refusing us or Eskom refusing [for] us to continue with this. It means load shedding, and with load shedding, it means that the businesses won't have power. Some of them will have to consider closing shop because then they will be reliant on diesel which is expensive. And that will mean job losses for the community of Mafube," says Gugu Mokoena, general manager of Rural Free State.