This emerged in what Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and Eskom management termed a frank discussion on the country’s current energy supply challenges.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, Gordhan said the rolling blackouts were a result of aging power plants and maintenance that has been deteriorating due to maintenance expenditure.
“This is a difficult time. Many people are frustrated because of the uncertainty around what is happening. We fully understand the frustration. We apologise for the burden that we are placing on South Africans at this point in time; [also] to the businesses - small and big – that are working under difficult circumstances in the current economic climate,” the minister said.
He emphasised the importance of understanding where Eskom’s challenges emanated, saying the entity was doing its utmost to normalise the situation.
“It’s going to be a huge struggle for us to overcome this emergency. We want to give the public as much information as we possibly can and have at our command so that we all have similar information.”
Gordhan pointed out that Eskom is an old organisation and thus has some historical elements. The unravelling State Capture allegations have also crippled the power utility.
Responding to questions of how long load shedding would last, Gordhan said the various committees and task teams were investigating the extent of deterioration at the country’s power plants.
“At this point in time, we are still trying to get a better grasp of the technical problems and other problems that the power stations are confronting. That is why there’s the Eskom presidential task team that was created in January. Eskom board and management are developing a turnaround strategy and a nine-point operational plan,” he said.
This, he said, demonstrates government’s eagerness and determination to resolve the problems identified and answer how long load shedding would last.
“The answer to that question is that we need to complete these investigations and we will come back to you in the next 10 to 14 days…” the Minister said.
Eskom board chairman Jabu Mabuza said the power utility’s problems are financial, structural and operational.
“We have tried to do what we call a clean-up. What is clear now is that there is money stolen. This is clear. It’s clear looking at the financials that there has been no maintenance. The expenditure on maintenance was getting less and less until 2018. The question is how was money being spent? That is a matter for law enforcement.”
He pointed out that the commissioned units under construction power plants in Medupi and Kusile have not produced enough energy.
“The one power station has one unit and the other has two but they keep tripping. We are in a situation of a gap and demand. The new plants are producing enough capacity and the old ones are too old,” Mabuza said.
He said over the past five years, expenditure on maintenance had decreased from R37 billion to R10 billion. Owing to low maintenance, power plants were beginning to “fall apart”.
Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe said the power utility would over the next five years use R50bn to maintain power stations. "That will not only be dealing with generation because that’s what we’ve been concentrating on, but we’ve taken a decision that if we don’t deal with transmission and distribution, we’ll be facing the same challenges we are with generation."
“Going forward, we are to make sure that distribution and transmission are maintained,” he said.
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