Coal challenge leaves Eskom worried

Eskom is not as concerned about the domestic availability of sufficient coal as it is with the speed at which it could be mined, Business Day reported on Wednesday.

Citing Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga, the financial daily said the national power utility is also worried about logistical problems in transporting the coal to power stations.

Eskom has estimated that about 900 additional trucks would be required to transport the coal, and that substantial road repairs would be required to facilitate this, particularly in Mpumalanga. These potential bottlenecks could delay the vital stockpiling of coal ahead of the approaching winter.

Maroga told Parliament’s public enterprises committee that Eskom needs between four million and five million tonnes of additional coal over the next three months to restore stockpiles to about 20 days’ supply. Some power stations have stockpiles of less than 10 days.

“We know the coal reserves are there. We will start from the basis that we will source the coal locally. We hardly ever source internationally — we have lots of coal,” Maroga said.

Eskom is in talks with major coal producers about securing more supplies.

Most Eskom power stations receive coal from adjacent mines, but the Majuba mine is totally dependent on road transport and Tutuka only gets half its requirements from an adjacent mine.

Power stations near mines have been consuming more than the originally contracted amount because they have been running harder than planned.

Eskom recently said it would need 45-million tonnes of coal — over and above its normal running requirements of 125-million tonnes a year — to rebuild stockpiles.

The feasibility of this was questioned by analysts in the light of global shortages, but Maroga told the committee that contracts for the supply of 17,7-million tonnes had already been concluded.

In the meantime, public enterprises committee chairperson Fatima Chohan warned against being lulled into a false sense of security that the electricity emergency is now under control when the country is “still very much in crisis mode”.

Addressing Maroga and Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, who appeared before the committee to provide an update on the electricity crisis, she said she was concerned that the momentum of spreading awareness would slow down.

Erwin concurred, saying: “We are not safe. We have to bring about behavioural changes in the use of electricity.” He also acknowledged that more work needs to be done on Eskom’s future capital structure.

Erwin hoped a plan would be ready by mid-year, stressing that it would have to be discussed in the context of tariff increases. Short-term increases might be necessary. — I-Net Bridge

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