For the second year in a row, Eskom management and key staff members will not take leave in the festive season as instructed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, as the power utility struggles to halt power outages.
The announcement was made at a briefing which mirrored the events of a similar one exactly a year ago where Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan cancelled Christmas leave, after the country was plunged into darkness.
“No one goes on leave,” said Ramaphosa.
‘If we are to have the system restored to stability all leave from now on until January is cancelled, all executives must remain in place and all key managers, to make sure that we do not have load shedding,” he added.
Ramaphosa was addressing the media following a meeting with the Eskom board and management on Wednesday morning, about the current wave of power cuts which reached crisis point on Monday, forcing Eskom to introduce Stage 6 load shedding. This resulted in Ramaphosa cancelling an official trip to Egypt.
While the Grinch of load shedding has stolen Christmas for Eskom employees, Ramaphosa assured the public that there would not be any load shedding between December 17 and January 13.
The work to stabilise the system will go on right up to March.
This is much the same as last year where Gordhan promised the nation that there would be a reprieve from power cuts between December 15 2018 and January 15 2019
Another parallel to December 2018 is the spectre of ‘sabotage’ to the stability of the grid which has reared its head again.
When Eskom initially announced that there would be load shedding on Thursday, December 5, it informed customers that the system was severely constrained due to unplanned outages. While the system remained volatile for the next seven days with scheduled load shedding moving between stage 3, 4 and 6, various reasons were given for this: from unplanned unit breakdowns and wet coal to flooding from excessive rain.
However, in addition to those factors, Ramaphosa revealed that there had been an act of sabotage at the Tutuka Power Station on Thursday, which wiped out 2 000 MW of power from the grid for ten hours.
Investigations are currently underway, with Ramaphosa saying that Eskom should work closely with the South African Police Service and the intelligence services, to figure out how an instrument was disconnected from one of the Eskom boilers, leading to the 2 000 MW loss.
“I think it is important for all of us to note that there are certain people within the system who take it upon themselves to switch off certain instruments that lead us to lose so many megawatts,” he said.
Eskom’s management informed Ramaphosa that it would need increased capacity of 5 000 MW in order to stabilise the system, providing the utility with enough room to conduct maintenance at power stations that require it.
Eskom Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer said the 5 000 MW has not yet been modelled or calculated but is the estimated figure of what the utility believes it will require.
Proposals that were put on the table to unlock this additional supply ranged from sourcing floating generators (where ships would plug into the grid), or to consider self-generation (where households and industry supply their own power). These suggestions will be considered by cabinet on Friday, when Gordhan and the Minister of Energy Gwede Mantashe will make a presentation.