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The dark side to resuming mining

Chantelle Benjamin

Eskom may not have enough power during peak hours for platinum mines in the Rustenburg area to resume operations when the strike is finally resolved.

Eskom is going to be put under pressure when the platinum miners return to work. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Platinum mining companies are concerned that Eskom will not have sufficient power at peak times for them to begin operations in the Rustenburg area when the strike, which has been going on for four months, is finally resolved.

A power expert said that if the strike is resolved in the next few weeks, it may involve a sacrifice by the industry and private individuals.

Eskom told the Mail & Guardian that it has factored in a 400 megawatt increase in its generation and maintenance planning for the mines, but that they will need about 500MW to operate at full capacity.

Newly appointed Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi has prioritised resolving the platinum sector strike and met representatives from the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on his first day on the job. Amcu has demanded a R12 500 monthly wage before deductions for entry-level workers at Anglo Platinum (Amplats), Impala Platinum (Implats) and Lonmin.

Eskom’s weekly systems update currently shows a gap of about 1 500MW between demand and available capacity in peak periods, and this includes power from the open-cycle gas turbines.

Unplanned maintenance
Doug Kuni, managing director of the South African Independent Power Producers’ Association, said that unplanned maintenance, which cost the grid 4 100MW of power in the week of May 22, was twice that of planned maintenance, which saw 2 300MW removed from the grid.

Four days later, planned maintenance cost the grid 3 027MW and unplanned failures 5 371MW. And this week Thursday Eskom reported that their system was “tight” because of cold weather.

“Eskom is presently operating on a very tight supply and the high level of unplanned maintenance is a concern. It means units are being pushed very hard and the units were not taken out of service until they absolutely had to be,” he said.

“Quite frankly, I would rather see them take any power they need from private individuals than force industry to cut back operations.”

Kuni said unplanned incidents can be very detrimental and suddenly affect power supply.

Koeberg back on line
Eskom’s May 22 power update reported that Koeberg unit two has been brought back on line after being shut down for maintenance on March 23 which has increased capacity.

At the same time, a fire at Groot­vlei power station wiped 200MW from the grid. The station came online this week.

Implats spokesperson Johan Theron said: “We are clearly concerned, given that it [Eskom] is already operating on very low reserve margins, which will only become more constricted when we resume production and the cold winter months start to bite.”

Theron said Implats has contributed to reducing pressure on the grid when reserve margins became constrained and he is confident that Eskom “will assist us as best they can when we are in a position to resume operations”.

Lomin spokesperson Sue Vey said its Marikana operations usually draw about 200MW of power from the grid but that the company had already begun ramping up production. “We are presently using around 100MW,” she said.

Tight Eskom supply
Asked whether Lonmin is concerned about power supply, she said: “No more than the already known concerns about the tight supply and demand situation of the Eskom grid.

“We are kept up to date daily on the situation of the Eskom supply versus demand margin situation.”

She said Lonmin has submitted a ramp-up proposal to Eskom to help it with planning.

Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger said Eskom has planned to supply about 400MW to the mining sector.

He expects the industry to restart operations gradually, but a mining source and Kuni said the mines will probably need the full amount of power very quickly after starting up, for the ventilation of their shafts alone.

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