Earlier this month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said that a plan to sort Eskom out was on the way. An accelerated plan, specifically, that would chart the country’s path out of load shedding. Last night, in an address to the nation, Ramaphosa detailed the steps that will be taken to keep the country’s lights on.
The steps mentioned were identical to points leaked prior to the president’s speech yesterday. SA politicians were briefed by a presentation, ahead of Ramaphosa’s speech. If you were hoping for something groundbreaking and new, though, you’re in for some disappointment.
Making light of Eskom
President Ramaphosa outlined several points that will allow the country to manage load shedding until the situation is corrected. What’s notable is that nothing suggested offers an immediate solution. Load shedding and Eskom breakdowns will be part of our lives for some time yet.
Still, the South African government hopes that a few changes will help. The first step is to throw more money at the problem, in the shape of an increased maintenance budget. This will hopefully help in the short term to keep load shedding at lower levels (Stage 2 to 4, we suppose).
Also on the cards is the recruitment of new skilled workers for Eskom. This includes “…former senior Eskom plant managers and engineers from the private sector”. It also counts as throwing money at the problem. But then, so does purchasing extra capacity from independent power suppliers. These include “…mines, paper mills, shopping centres and other private entities that have surplus power”.
The same goes for importing electricity from countries like Botswana and Zambia, as part of the Southern African Power Pool arrangement.
Additionally, the South African government is launching a program that hopes to convince the country to use less power during peak times.
Finally, red tape is being slashed everywhere. Eskom will be permitted to buy spares and equipment for repairs and maintenance more easily — though we’d appreciate some oversight here. That looks like a money-hole waiting to happen.
Alternate power sources are being given a kick in the pants too. Construction of Bid Window 5, which will add a fair chunk of power generation, has been accelerated. Bid Window 6 is speeding up and its generation is increasing too. Some 5,200MW will be implemented, up from 2,600MW.
Then there’s crime and corruption. The South African Police Service is setting up a dedicated unit “…to help Eskom in confronting crime and corruption”. If they address the widespread financial fraud as well as the effects of sabotage and illegal strike action, that would be great.
Which, if you’re paying attention, almost all counts as throwing money at the problem. The problem is that South Africa has poured almost R400 billion into it already. That’s why, by October, the government will announce a plan to deal with the state power utility’s debt.