Eskom seeks expert help

Pravin Gordhan.
Pravin Gordhan.
Image: Esa Alexander

The government is bringing in external engineers to investigate the problems at Eskom’s power stations, which have seen the country plunged into rolling blackouts since Sunday.

Among other things, these experts will conduct a full operations audit of all power stations to ascertain where the most serious problems lie.

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan told parliament the Eskom board would appoint a panel of experts to compile an in-depth, independent audit to ensure every technical problem was fully understood.

The board would also institute an urgent review to establish when the Medupi and Kusile power stations would realistically be completed – as well as to determine the extent of design and other operational faults, what steps could be implemented to minimise escalating costs and what could be done to increase output.

In a prepared speech that he did not read out in parliament, Gordhan revealed that:

● Finance minister Tito Mboweni will announce measures in the budget speech next week to address some of Eskom’s financial requirements;

● The government is calling on Enel, one of the world’s leading energy suppliers, to provide it with external technical assistance. Enel will soon be sending two or three coal power station engineers to SA; and

● Engineers who were trained by Eskom but left the entity during the period of corruption and state capture to work elsewhere on the continent have indicated their desire to return home and contribute to the rebuilding of Eskom.

“The first point we need to tell the public is that Medupi and Kusile were badly designed and badly constructed and are not performing at optimum levels,” Gordhan told MPs, to much heckling from the opposition benches.

He was participating in Tuesday’s debate of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address.

In terms of power generation, Gordhan said coal-powered stations gave the country 38,639MW, far more than other sources such as water at 3,324MW, gas at 2,409MW and nuclear at 1,860MW.

“What we are currently faced with is that not all of the 38,000MW, or fully installed 45,000MW, is available to us.”

Gordhan explained that there were planned outages of about 5,000MW, for unit maintenance.

There were also forced or unplanned outages that involved about 5,500MW and occasional partial outages that involved about 3,800MW.

Gordhan admitted that the wrong choices had been made and faulty designs implemented with regards to Medupi and Kusile.

He said with the two power stations not performing, costs had escalated and were now three times higher than expected, with construction seven years late.

He said seven power units had tripped within five hours on Monday, making this a crisis of a scale last experienced in 2014/2015.

“These outages have a massive impact on the economy. It also causes huge frustration, uncertainty, vulnerability and fear among communities and households,” Gordhan said.

“The dependence on diesel as an emergency measure is expensive. Supplies are unreliable. This is not sustainable.”

Gordhan also spoke of a determined fightback campaign from various quarters against the government’s attempts to end corruption and state capture.

“Those who are determined to block our efforts have relied on naked populist narratives, fake news [and] cyber aggression. They use diversionary tactics and fake news,” he said.

Despite these attempts, he was confident the government was well on its way to making sure state capture was defeated.