By Colleta Dewa
Johannesburg - South Africa experienced a nationwide blackout on Thursday last week, as the country’s power supply utility, Eskom, is battling to meet power demand following an industrial action by its employees.
Apart from the blackout that lasted more than four hours, Eskom has since last week introduced load shedding across the country.
Eskom has confirmed that the power cuts are likely to continue until the labour dispute has been resolved.
“While the safety of employees remains our first priority, recovery teams at our power stations continue to work hard to stabilise the power system and to return our generation plant as quickly as possible. Eskom’s prognosis is that the power system will take up to approximately 10 days to recover from the effects of the recent industrial action,” said Eskom
The power company added that the nation should brace for more power cuts which it estimates to take 10 days.
“The estimated 10-day prognosis for full restoration is due to the effects of the industrial action, which interrupted continuous processes at the power plants. These processes have now to be cleared out and restarted, which would take additional time.
“Eskom will advise if rotational load shedding will be conducted in stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 or stage 4, dependent on the capacity shortage. Stage one requires 1,000MW to be rotationally load-shed nationwide, stage 2 requires 2,000 MW, stage 3 requires 3,000 MW and stage 4 calls for up to 4,000 MW to be rotationally load-shed nationally in that given period.
“Load shedding is conducted as a measure of last resort to protect the power system from a total collapse or blackout,” added Eskom.
Eskom also admitted that it is facing serious coal shortages threatening the organisations capacity to provide adequate power supplies.
“Inability to transport coal from our coal stockyards to our coal bunkers due to the absence of operating staff has been a challenge. In addition, the already low coal stockpiles at some stations were exacerbated by road closures as coal delivery had to be suspended.
“In addition, Eskom is currently managing diesel levels at our peaking plants at 50% to ensure that sufficient diesel generation is available for emergencies,” they said.
Earlier this year, Eskom denied allegations that some of its power stations in Mpumalanga are not operating at full capacity due to coal shortages.
Eskom employees are demanding a 15% wage hike, but management has said it cannot afford any increases, therefore, offered no salary increment.
Talks between the unions, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, Solidarity, the National Union of Mineworkers and Eskom are set to resume following an intervention by Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan.
Late last week, the power utility obtained a court interdict against sporadic pickets, and acts of violence and threats on staff.
More than 95% of the country's electricity is supplied by the state-owned power utility.
In an interview with The Southern Times, economic analysts Paro Lindie said the Eskom situation is a threat to investment, which is likely to have a negative impact on investor confidence.
“We have a President who is trying to lure international investors but the situation at home does not support the agenda. Honestly, the management at Eskom should consider the rate at which the economy is suffering due to the power cuts.
“This is really not a light issue. The government should put Eskom to order. No investor will have confidence in a country that is always rioting or striking over one thing or the other.
“Industry has been affected, the health system affected and education is not spared considering that most students are writing their end of term tests and there is no power to study at home,” she said.
Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa’s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance, said the Eskom woes are beyond labour disputes but rather the core of the problem was the history of state capture at the public enterprise, therefore, there is a need to introduce reforms at Eskom.
He added that since Eskom is fiscally dependent, it will cripple the economy if no profound reform takes place.
“No one will invest in a climate where you can't secure energy, where you can't create the necessary work, where you can’t set up plants and infrastructure. Tomorrow morning we can pay Eskom employees more, but the actual consequence will be for those without jobs," he said.
Eskom is, however, likely to remain vulnerable until it sorts out the labour and coal issues as well as plant breakdowns.