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Lights on at all costs? Eskom rubbishes political allegations leading up to elections

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INSIGHT: Blow by blow no political party is sparing the punches when it comes to calling out the ruling party over allegations that it is pressuring Eskom to keep the lights on at all costs.

The Minister of Electricity in the Presidency, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Picture: GCIS

By Adil Nchabeleng

BLOW by blow no political party is sparing the punches when it comes to calling out the ruling party over allegations that it is pressuring Eskom to keep the lights on at all costs.

Although at his Energy Action Plan update the Minister of Electricity Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa disputes the allegations echoed by opposition parties.

Here are the facts in summary. Eskom has undertaken 8,000 to 9,000 MW in scheduled maintenance over the past months and spent around R30 billion in maintenance on power plants.

These have yielded great results in performance and maintenance reliability.

These are the reasons why load shedding has been suspended for more than 27 days and indefinitely until further announcement.

Power stations have had significant improvement in performance after extensive maintenance was carried out. Eskom has turned the corner and is performing phenomenally well under the new board leadership steered by Dr Nathi Mthethwa and newly appointed CEO Dan Marokane and the executive team.

This has been the best performance ever since the departure of former CEO André de Ruyter in 2022.

Under De Ruyter’s leadership, Eskom suffered the worst years of its plant’s life with total neglect on plant maintenance and overall lowest energy availability factor percentage.

Unfortunately that same spirit is not shared by other opposition parties. Not everyone has bought into the newly found Eskom success in temporarily ending load shedding.

Political party leaders have been up in arms in their rallies pointing to the fact that the current suspension of load shedding is due to the fact that it is an election season and Eskom has been instructed by the ruling party to keep the lights on by any means necessary.

Is this true or not? Well we are all waiting to see what happens after elections and the start of the chilling winter season.

The leaders of several opposition parties have taken to the podium denouncing the recent end to load shedding as an election stunt to boost the ruling party’s chances of winning the elections. In their speeches this is what they had to say.

The EFF:

The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, has spoken out against the ruling party using load shedding as a campaign tool. In his criticism, he lashed out that the reason why there is no load shedding is because the ruling party is using reserves – diesel and pump hydro storage – systems to keep away load shedding.

“You see what they are doing. They are suspending load shedding for the purpose of elections. After elections they are going back to load shedding. Because they want to make us believe that they are solving a problem, which they have created. Load shedding is man-made. That is why during the 2023 Rugby World Cup there was electricity. How did electricity know that there was a Rugby World Cup?

“And after the Rugby World Cup the electricity disappeared. And didn’t just disappear. It returned to Stage 6. And that is what we are going to experience on the 29th May, after voting they are going to start switching off the electricity. And not just switch it off they are going to take us to Stage 6. Because they are really using whatever reserves are there to keep the lights on …”

The DA:

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen said, “Is Eskom feeling ANC heat to keep the lights on ahead of May polls?,” in a press release.

“Everyone knows that open-cycle gas turbines (OCGT), which form part of Eskom’s peaking power plants, are only meant to be used during peak periods, or when the system is constrained. However, Eskom’s supply and demand updates — provided for the days it has not implemented load shedding — reveal it continues to rely on OCGTs to plug power supply deficits. Meanwhile, the overall performance of the country’s coal-fired power plants has hardly improved since 2023.

“Though it has rightly been pointed out that widespread solar energy adoption by households and the coming online of pipeline renewable energy projects have contributed to less load shedding, it does not negate the reality that Eskom still cannot ensure a stable power supply without the use of OCGTs.

“In an election year, this creates the perception Eskom may be manipulating the power supply ecosystem to keep the lights on at all costs until May 29.

“If that is not the case, why has Eskom not finalised its budget for the 2024/25 financial year despite concluding its current financial year on March 31 2024?

“Is it because they do not want the public to see how much they have budgeted for diesel, and how quickly they are burning it up in their quest to keep the lights on until May 29?

“It would be the scandal of this election if Eskom announced the return of load shedding after the final vote — proving the ANC have attempted to manipulate us again. After all, load shedding returned with a vengeance the day after the 2021 election…

“What is of concern is the burning of diesel in OCGTs to create a fantasy, ahead of an election, that Eskom has turned the corner on load shedding, to influence the outcome of the poll… We have seen this movie play out before. We must not be hoodwinked again.”

The Minister of Electricity:

Ramokgopa said, “Remember that there has been a significant weaponisation of load shedding. So some of the (political parties) have used this as part of a campaigning tool. So when you remove it from their arsenal they are exposed. And therefore they report to unsubstantiated theories like we have seen someone penned something that can be described as preposterous that is not anchored on facts.

“The kind of reactions we are seeing in the political space reactions to load shedding is to be expected. It’s a silly season…

“One thing I can assure the South African public is that Dr Mthethwa and the board will not do things that are politically expedient and short-sighted that are going to damage the SA grid and have long-term implications. On our ability to resolve load shedding. So they will never do it under any circumstances. They have got a reputation to protect. They are consummate professionals. These are engineers highly sought after and will not do anything that is harmful to our ability to resolve this question.

“And myself, as a minister, I will never pick up a phone and say to Dr Mthethwa or Mr Marokane keep the lights on at all costs. It will never happen. That is not the relationship we have. I have said it previously. I have been appointed to ensure that or of course to reduce the intensity of load shedding, its frequency and ultimately it must be eliminated.

“And I said that we are going to do things by the book. We are going to go to First Principles do planned maintenance….”

Conclusion:

South Africans don’t care what Eskom does daily, just keep the lights on. The greatest lesson learned by now is that no ruling party should ever tamper with the energy generation systems and power plants.

To interfere with Eskom and prematurely leapfrog into the transition away from coal and fossil fuels towards net zero carbon neutral policy was the biggest mistake the ANC has ever made in the past 30 years in power.

To hold on to power you need to guarantee power generation and security of supply to the nation. Without electricity no party can hold on to power. Election outcomes will be determined by electricity supply.

* Crown Prince Adil Nchabeleng is president of Transform RSA and an independent energy expert.

** The views in this column are independent of the DFA.

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