Eskom warned of wider controlled power cuts on Monday after six additional generating units unexpectedly went offline. The power utility launched stage 4 load shedding, which requires the shedding of 4 000 megawatts from the grid.
The Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry is shocked by the sudden dramatic increase in load shedding.
“How is it possible for six units to go down at the same time?” asked Ms Janine Myburgh, President of the Chamber. “It is just too much of a co-incidence and we must ask if this is not another case of sabotage?”
Sabotage was blamed for a previous bout of load shedding, but the form it took was never explained to the public, except for workers who prevented coal deliveries from taking place.
“Stage Four load shedding is very serious indeed and it will affect commerce and industry. This will also affect the jobs of other workers, especially in heavy industry and it is time that workers whose jobs are at risk raised their voices,” Ms Myburgh said.
She also pointed out that the new crisis would affect businesses confidence “and I can see foreign investor turning away and looking elsewhere for investment opportunities.”
To make matters worse the blow has come in the middle of the tourist season and at a vital time for agriculture, two of our most important industries.
In the long term it would also mean more businesses and home owners making decisions to go off grid leading to further problems for Eskom and its staff.
The five power generation units at Eskom’s troubled new Medupi power station that have been operational are drowning in ash after Clyde Bergemann Africa (CBZ), which was contracted to supply and construct the dust handling units, withdrew its staff from the power station.
CBZ managing director Jeremy Kirsch confirmed to Moneyweb on Monday that the business was placed in business rescue last week, days after he spoke out about what he described as Eskom’s failure to operate the plant at the completed units properly.
CBZ has long-term maintenance contracts on eight other Eskom power stations, Kirsch told Moneyweb. CBZ staff are still on site at those power stations, he said.
EE Publishers managing editor Chris Yelland however reported last week that these workers are “on tenterhooks” and could down tools at any time.
As far as Moneyweb could establish at least four of the five operational units at Medupi were working on Monday, although at least one of these was said to be operating at only half the expected output.
Ash ‘abrasive, enormously damaging’
Kirsch warned last week that “ash is abrasive … it will grind things away quickly”. He criticised Eskom for failing to attend to problems at the plant immediately and said things are left for days while ash is being spewed all over. By the time the problem is fixed, the damage is enormous, he said.
In addition, Eskom buys spares from CBZ – and Eskom’s GM for Group Technology Titus Mathe stated recently (at national energy regulator Nersa’s public hearings about a proposed tariff increase for Eskom) that the utility was battling to get the necessary spares due to CBZ’s financial pressures.
CBZ’s problems only add to Eskom’s headaches, with seven units tripping within five hours on Monday. This necessitated Stage 4 load shedding, with Eskom reducing the electricity load by 4 000MW to protect the system from total collapse.
This means Eskom was unable to supply the demand of around 29 000MW. According to Eskom’s own data this is low compared to similar periods in previous years.
The utility has said in the past that a total system collapse could result in a blackout lasting two to three weeks, with power stations being started up one by one.
According to Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe, Monday was the first time since about 2013/14 that Eskom had to reduce the load by as much as 4 000MW.
Eskom did not give detail on Monday about which units had tripped. According to Moneyweb sources the technicians were battling to get some units at the Grootvlei Power Station back online and the open-cycle gas turbines at the Gourikwa and Ankerlig power stations were out of diesel.
Energy Intensive User Group (EIUG) spokesperson Shaun Nel told Moneyweb last night that the organisation, which represents Eskom’s large industrial users, is concerned that the crisis might deepen later in the week because Eskom has been unable to replenish its diesel stack as well as the water for its pump storage units.
Nel said the EIUG agreed with Eskom on Monday to form a technical team that will meet regularly with the system operator to identify where EIUG members can assist with technical skills to improve plant performance.
He said that Eskom acknowledged the need for more transparency about its problems and the need to work together to find solutions.
Eskom said in a statement on Monday night that four of the seven units that tripped on Monday morning were already back in service and that the remaining three were expected to be operational on Tuesday morning.
Six-hour meeting with Gordhan
It said the Eskom board had held an urgent meeting with public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan following the announcement of load shedding on Sunday.
The meeting lasted more than six hours, with the board, Eskom management and representatives of the department delving deep into the problems at the old and new power stations, Eskom said.
It promised a systems and operations update within the next 24 hours.
Eskom said its board “has resolved to institute an urgent review to establish when, realistically, these projects [the Medupi and Kusile power stations] will be completed, the extent of design and other operational faults, what steps can be implemented to minimise the ever-escalating costs and what can be done to increase output.
“The board is also urgently embarking on an in-depth audit of the entire system to ensure that every technical problem is understood at a granular level and to avoid unexpected crises as seen today.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday the prospect of more power cuts by utility Eskom were “most worrying”.
The cash-strapped company warned of wider controlled power cuts on Monday after six additional generating units unexpectedly went offline.
“That comes as quite a shock. It is reported that there are six units that are down – that is most worrying, most disturbing,” said Ramaphosa during a live Twitter broadcast.
To see when load shedding will affect you, visit www.loadshedding.eskom.co.za
Sources: Moneyweb, Times Live, Cape Independence, Cape Times