/ 25 January 2008

Power failures a ‘national emergency’

South Africa’s rolling power failures are a ”national emergency” but economic growth can continue at healthy levels if energy is used more efficiently, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin said on Friday.

”It is clear that we are running our power system at utilisation levels that are overstretching maintenance,” Erwin told reporters in a briefing in Pretoria, according to the South African Press Association.

Erwin said the economy, which has boomed in recent years, could continue to grow at healthy rates ”if we change our behaviour and become more energy efficient”.

”It is also critical to stress that the growth of South Africa’s economy at the current healthy levels can continue if we change our behaviour and become more energy efficient,” he said.

Erwin added the government had to share the blame for the current crisis, saying the country was becoming a victim of its own success with electricity demand growing faster than expected.

”The president has accepted that this government got its timing wrong,” he said.

‘Quick hit’

Government would implement an electricity rationing programme as a ”quick hit” solution to address the current power failures, said Minerals and Energy Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica.

”We have discussed how quotas will be allocated, who will be exempt from the programme, what incentives and penalties will be in place, when it will start and what legislative enablers we need to have in place for the programme to work,” Sonjica said.

There is a plan to replace incandescent light in the country’s households with compact fluorescent lights which government believes would save 800MW, and a plan to install one million solar water-heaters over the next three years which will save around 650MW.

The government also wants to change behaviour by setting building standards geared towards energy efficient behaviour.

It also plans to implement smart metering for residential areas which will enable the municipalities and Eskom to remotely manage customer loads.

Other plans switching from electricity to liquefied petroleum gas and to compel hospitals to use solar power for water heating.

AngloPlat halts operations

South Africa’s largest platinum miner Anglo Platinum said it had stopped operations at all its local mines due to lack of electricity, spokesperson Trevor Raymond said on Friday.

”I can confirm that we have completely halted operations in South Africa to conserve power,” he said.

It is also understood that AngloPlat rival Impala Platinum has also suspended operations, but the company was not immediately available for comment.

Meanwhile, underground activities at major goldmines came to a halt because of power cuts, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said on Friday. ”Eskom has been unable to guarantee the length of load shedding affecting gold mines in the country, which led to workers at major goldmines been unable to attend to their duties since last night [Thursday].

”Work in the mines has become a matter of life and death,” said NUM general secretary Frans Baleni.

”The mining industry cannot afford random shedding with no prior notice as that endangers the lives of ordinary workers and threatens their very survival.”

Eskom needed to communicate with mines effectively so workers were not put at risk, said Baleni.

Workers from Anglogold, Harmony and Goldfields were currently being affected by the power cuts.

Trade union Solidarity said on Friday that the largest gold mine in the world, Goldfields’s Driefontein Mine near Carletonville, had been forced to stop underground operations.

”Sixteen thousand workers were sent for training this morning [Friday] because there was not enough electricity to enable them to work underground.”

The union said 12 000 workers at Goldfields’s Kloof Mine, also near Carletonville, could not go underground on Friday.

”Lost production is costing the mines millions.

”The mines are not the only losers. Workers’ bonuses are also affected by load shedding.” — Reuters, Sapa, I-Net Bridge