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Depleting coal stocks could spark power cuts

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Eskom said yesterday that the problems with coal supply were largely due to Gupta-owned Tegeta Exploration and Resources being under business rescue and unable to supply coal to three power stations.

Four South African power plants have fewer than 10 days of coal, with the countrys power utility planning on trucking and railing supplies. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency
Durban – Cash-strapped Eskom says it is doing all it can to stave off load shedding as it announced yesterday that it was facing severe coal shortages at eight power stations.

However, an energy expert warned that the approaching rainy season, which also played a role in load shedding in 2008, could be a key factor in whether power cuts could be avoided.

Eskom said yesterday that the problems with coal supply were largely due to Gupta-owned Tegeta Exploration and Resources being under business rescue and unable to supply coal to three power stations.

The power utility said eight power stations were sitting at less than 20 days of coal stockpiles.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said of the eight stations, half had less than 10 days of coal supplies. These included Arnot, Hendrina, Kriel and Tutuka power stations.

According to the National Energy Regulator (Nersa), power stations must have at least 21 days of coal stockpiles at all times to prevent services from being interrupted.

Eskom said Nersa had been informed about the current “coal challenges” and that new coal contracts would be signed soon in order to rebuild the coal stockpiles at the affected stations.

Phasiwe said that once Tegeta started defaulting in terms of meeting its obligations, it meant Eskom had to source coal from elsewhere.

“Which is why we were taking coal from other power stations to the ones supplied by Tegeta,” he said.

Phasiwe said they would be signing a contract with 12 suppliers.

“We are in negotiations with Transnet so that they can also rail some of the coal to Mpumalanga power station.”

Phasiwe said there was a risk of load shedding, but he assured that Eskom was trying to mitigate against that outcome.

He said although Eskom generally had adequate capacity to meet demand for most hours of the day, the power system became severely constrained during peak hours, and diesel was being used in order to ensure security of power supply.

Energy expert Chris Yelland said the burning question in the situation was whether there was any likelihood of some power stations running out of coal.

“While Eskom acknowledges that the current situation is not ideal, it believes that barring unforeseen events and circumstances, the current coal supply plan and forecast is for no stations to run out of coal.

“However, as in the load-shedding of 2007 and 2008, the weather during the approaching rainy season may prove to be the deciding factor,” said Yelland.

SA National Consumers Union vice-chairperson Clif Johnston agreed that the rainy season could play a role.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said in a statement yesterday that it believed the coal shortages were a direct result of poor management and mischievous attempts to purchase “emergency coal” at excessive prices.

Ronald Chauke, Outa’s manager: energy portfolio, said: “This is a clear indication that bad management decisions at Eskom are at the heart of our high electricity prices.

“Depleted coal stockpiles will result in coal being purchased at premium prices, which will likely result in Eskom requesting another electricity price increase.”

The organisation said it was urging the new board to act speedily to resolve the coal shortage crisis and embark on forward planning measures that will prevent consumers from being held to ransom. 

The Mercury