Medupi power station's completion delayed

Medupi power station. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Medupi power station. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

It was announced on Monday at a press conference that the first unit of the Medupi station will only come online by the middle of next year, putting the project six months to a year behind schedule. The press conference was addressed, by among others, Eskom chief executive Brian Dames.

Until a few months ago Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said the December 2013 deadline for the long awaited power station still stood.

The site was temporarily closed in January when workers went on strike increasing fears that this power station would be delayed. 

The six different generating units, the boilers, are expected to generate about 800MW of electricity each. Boiler six was expected to deliver electricity to the grid at the end of 2013, which will obviously now not happen. 

In April, Gigaba warned that service providers would face tough penalties if the Medupi power station did not meet its December 2013 deadline.

"I wish to make it unequivocally clear that I will not tolerate any delays to the delivery of this unit," said Gigaba.

Load shedding
Later in April, analysts and people working in the industry said they believed load shedding to be a very real possibility, given that our electricity system is running with almost no reserves.

In a quarterly state-of-the-system briefing, given in Johannesburg and then again in Parliament at the time, Eskom revealed just how tight things have become for the country.

The week began on a reserve margin of 881MW – or just under 3%. This almost non-existent breathing room for the country's power system has become a common occurrence in recent months.
On April 22, a unit at Koeberg was returned to service, adding 900MW to the grid.

The power line that transports electricity from Cahora Bassa in Mozambique to South Africa is expected to be back up and running by the end of April, adding another 600MW. The 1 500MW supply from Cahora Bassa has been patchy since the middle of last year after a technical failure at a substation in Mozambique.

This was followed by the transmission line going down due to floods in January. To cope with these supply problems Eskom has, for some months, been holding off on the maintenance it normally does in summer and has run its diesel-fuelled peaking power plants at the highest rates seen in the past four years to keep the lights on.

But Dames made it clear that it can no longer defer this maintenance because a number of power stations have reached their technical limits and the longer maintenance is put off the more unreliable plants become, and the greater the risk of unplanned outages.

"Necessary penalties will be at hand should any delays be experienced. Heads will roll." Given the current power system constraints it was critical for Medupi to be completed on time, he told reporters after inspecting the Medupi construction site in Lephalale with senior officials and Eskom chief executive Brian Dames.

Gigaba said South Africa did not have the "luxury of time to brook any delays".

?Additional measures were put in place to improve productivity at Medupi, including seven-day work weeks, two shifts a day, and additional senior project management and technical staff.

"There is recognition that the delays and additional measures being put in place to recover lost time may result in costs overruns which Eskom will resolve through remedies provided for in the contracts," he said.

?In January, Eskom temporarily closed the power station when contract workers went on strike. Gigaba said this closure was the longest at the site – more than 10 weeks. Dames said construction at Medupi was on a "tight schedule".

"As Eskom, we will do whatever it takes to ensure that we deliver by its target," he told reporters.

When Medupi's timelines were reviewed in November 2012 it was found the target date of first power by late 2013 could be achieved with "significant effort". – Additional reporting by Sapa

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn

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