More power troubles for SA as Eskom closes ageing plants

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Colleta Dewa

Johannesburg – The power supply crisis in South Africa is set to worsen, as Eskom plans to close down ageing stations.

Reports say Eskom, which supplies almost all the nation’s power, will lose more than a quarter of its current generating capacity over the next decade as it shuts down ageing coal-fired plants.

According to government estimates, replacing that output and adding capacity needed to meet rising demand will take almost a decade and cost more than a trillion rand (US$71 billion).

While Eskom is building two new plants, Medupi and Kusile, they are running years behind schedule and billions of rand over budget, and will not be enough to plug the supply gap.

The utility has limited scope to invest in more projects because it is not making enough money to cover its operating costs and service its debt, which had ballooned to R419bn at the end of its last financial year.

Inside sources say the problem is likely to worsen exponentially after 2030, as more plants reach retirement age.

Although the government has said it will turn to private investors to help fund new plants and step up the purchase of renewable energy from independent producers, the plans are being implemented too slowly and on an insufficient scale.

Private investors have added 3,876 megawatts of capacity to the national grid since 2011

In February, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced plans to split Eskom into generation, transmission and distribution units – a move that should make it easier for private power producers to access the grid and sell their output.

Eskom has, however, said its immediate focus will be to keep blackouts to a minimum by addressing maintenance backlogs, securing enough diesel to run turbines used at times of peak-power demand and fixing defects at its new units.

Meanwhile, as events unfold, Khulu Phasiwe, the spokesperson at the cash-strapped power utility, resigned last week. After working for Eskom for a decade, Phasiwe said his last day would be at the end of April. Phasiwe added that the last five years have taken a toll on his health and his personal life.

“The most important thing I would like to do at this stage is to relax. The last five years have taken a toll on me in terms of my health. And also, by extension, they have also affected my family. I have two kids and quite frankly, I have been an absent father to them in the last five years.”

He has been part of Eskom while it faced allegations of state capture, mismanagement, and load shedding.

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