A shortage of critical spares for cooling fans, a diesel stock crunch, uncooperating municipalities and emission restrictions are just some of the reasons South Africa and neighbouring beneficiaries have experienced endless rolling blackouts, Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter said on Tuesday.
The power utility’s board briefed the media after Eskom’s undertaking to limit the rotational loadshedding to stage two until the weekend proved short-lived, with the state utility having to resort to stage four on Monday, effectively doubling the frequency of the blackouts nationwide.
This prompted calls from the South African Federation of Trade Unions, the National Union of Mineworkers and the Black Business Council for De Ruyter’s dismissal. He however indicated this would not happen when responding to questions on the issue at a media briefing held virtually.
Instead, De Ruyter said he and his executives were appointed by the Eskom board and served at its discretion, adding that the board had not “so far” had conversations on dismissing anyone.
De Ruyter added: “I do not intend to resign of my own accord”.
“It is probably more important to have continuity of management rather than to fall back into the trap that Eskom has been in over the past 10 years when we had 11 different chief executives, that lack of continuity clearly has contributed significantly to instability in the organisation”.
De Ruyter has been Eskom chief executive since 15 January 2020, taking over from the late Jabu Mabuza who had acted in the position after previous chief executive Phakamani Hadebe left at the end of July 2019.
Hadebe was the 10th person to resign from Eskom‘s top post in the past 10 years.
Prior to becoming Eskom boss, De Ruyter was the chief executive at Nampak, the country’s largest packaging firm. His time at the power utility has been far from rosy, with load-shedding, which South Africa has had to contend with for 14 years now, hitting record highs under his watch.
At an Africa energy conference in Cape Town, Minerals Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe said the cost of load-shedding on the economy should be used to determine the ultimate position of Eskom’s chief executive, but added that the decision on his dismissal was not his to make.
“If you look into the cost of load-shedding, almost half of it happened in the last financial year, under the current chief executive. To me, that communicates a strong message to the chief executive to appreciate that the cost of load-shedding to the economy is unbearable, rather than me calling for him to be fired, that is not the issue,” said Mantashe.
The successes and the failures of Eskom should not be placed on just De Ruyter’s shoulders, the minister added.
“No individual is responsible for any disaster and no individual is responsible for any success. But sometimes we tend to make success, the chief executive, a disaster, the chief executive. There is a team in Eskom that works with the chief executive and that responsibility of the performance of Eskom is a team work,” he said.
On Tuesday De Ruyter acknowledged the frustrations of “not achieving our objectives as quickly as we would like to” in terms of stabilising electricity supply, but maintained “these frustrations will not be resolved by changing horses at this point in time”.
He said Eskom’s problems were being compounded by municipalities not implementing load-shedding as scheduled.
“We saw a number of municipalities, either not abiding by the obligations to implement load-shedding or implementing it only on a fractional basis of what the commitment should be. This has put us in a position where instead of the roughly 2 000 megawatts (MW) we would expect from load-shedding stage two, we had to deepen our load shedding to stage four,” De Ruyter said.
Capacity shortages due to challenges at several power stations add to the woes. Losses of up to 2 000MW at Eskom’s “most reliable power plant”, Lethabo which had only three units operating over the last two weeks.
At another reliable station, Matimba, De Ruyter said the plant had excessive vacuum losses due to procurement challenges of “critical spares for our cooling fans”.
“We also have emission restrictions that apply at Kendal power station where we lose about 740MW due to having to maintain our compliance with emissions standards”.
Jan Oberholzer, the chief operating officer at Eskom, highlighted the loss of 1 300MW at unit four of the Medupi station and unit one at Kendal.
Oberholzer said the investigation into an explosion at the Medupi plant was “nearing completion”, with indications being that “an error on the part of the control staff, the operating and maintenance staff” had caused the incident.
The full extent of damage at the new power plant is yet to be determined, he said, adding: “The indications at this point in time is that we will have this unit unavailable, 720MW which is significant, for at least 18 to 24 months”.
Elsewhere, after a fire at the Kendal station caused by an internal fault in a generator transformer, the affected unit is expected to return by December, adding 640MW to the grid.
De Ruyter said South Africa was expected to move to stage three load-shedding at 5am on Wednesday morning until the same time on Friday, when Eskom would downscale the blackouts further to stage two until Saturday morning “after which load-shedding might be lifted”.