Daily Loadshedding is on its way

South Africans must be prepared for daily load shedding from next week until at least the end of April. Eskom will do its best to prevent load shedding, but unless it gets R3 billion extra to buy diesel, daily load shedding is a certainty.

That was the message of Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona on Thursday during Eskom’s quarterly State of the System briefing at its Megawatt Park head office in Sunninghill.

Matona admitted that Eskom’s policy to “Keep the Lights on” meant that power station maintenance was neglected. The 2010 FIFA World Cup and elections are some of the factors that informed the policy to prioritise keeping the lights on over plant maintenance, he said.

Chairperson Zola Tsotsi said the Eskom board had already decided on April 2, 2013 that the policy was not sustainable. He said that was a difficult decision, because it was contrary to government policy.

He did not say why – if it was decided almost two years ago – the policy to prioritise maintenance is only being implemented now.

Matona added that Eskom has reached a point where power station units “are switching themselves off” because they were not switched off for maintenance earlier.

Eskom is currently discussing its budget – for diesel and plant maintenance with government – and the R3 billion shortfall on the diesel budget “has not been disapproved” Matona said.

The adequacy of the R20 billion aid package government earlier promised Eskom is also under discussion, Matona said. He however emphasised that the fundamental problem is that electricity tariffs do not cover the cost.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the utility on Thursday morning but left before the media briefing started. Matona further admitted that Eskom’s maintenance is not up to standard and units often break down shortly after coming back from a major service. He said Eskom will focus on improving that.

During the briefing it became clear that the first unit of Kusile is only expected to come into operation early in 2017 – a year later than previously communicated.

This was ascribed to “lessons learnt at Medupi” where expectations were over-optimistic. The date for synchronisation of Medupi unit 6 also seems to be an ever moving target.

While the earlier deadline of December 24, 2014 has been missed, hopes that it will still happen this month are now fading.

Roman Crookes, Eskom manager at Medupi, said it will happen “within weeks” and four to five months thereafter the unit will be supplying full power to the grid.

Only when substantial new generation capacity becomes available will the pressure on the power system be relieved and the need for load shedding decrease.

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