/ 29 September 2022

Energy crisis: Another R33-billion needed to complete Medupi and Kusile

Unions At Odds Over Medupi 'strike' And Reinstatement Offer
Together, the Medupi and Kusile power stations will cost a further R33-billion to complete, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Together, the Medupi and Kusile power stations will cost a further R33-billion to complete, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa answered questions before parliament on Thursday, during which he also said that South Africa’s energy crisis — which he called a “calamity of enormous proportions” — had not been wilfully brought on by any individual in government.

He said he, like others, had hoped Medupi and Kusile would be the solution to the country’s woes by boosting generation. “But low and behold, here we are today.”

Ramaphosa’s appearance in parliament comes as South Africa endures yet another bout of load-shedding, which has characterised a crisis spanning over 15 years. Long delays and massive cost overruns at Medupi and Kusile have exacerbated the energy crisis, which has hamstrung the country’s ailing economy. 

Construction on the two power stations began in 2007 and by 2019 their cost had ballooned by more than R300-billion — reaching R145-billion for Medupi and R161.4-billion for Kusile.

According to the president, Medupi has achieved commercial operation and will cost R19-billion to complete. It will cost a further R14-billion to finalise the construction of Kusile’s remaining two units. Eskom announced that Kusile unit four, out of a total six units, was completed in June.

On Thursday, Ramaphosa promised that proper procedures will be followed in the remaining construction at Medupi and Kusile, as his government will be watching out for corruption “like hawks”.

“I am confident in finishing these units and finishing them in the budgeted amounts that we have put out,” he said.

Eskom has also made progress on implementing technical solutions to the major defects at the power stations, the president added. 

“As a result, the availability and reliability of the commissioned units at Medupi and Kusile is improving on an ongoing basis. The effective correction of the major plant defects at Medupi and Kusile will ensure that the plants achieve their contractual performance with improved reliability, as well as availability factors.”

Last year, Eskom announced that Medupi, which is the fourth-largest, coal-fired power station in the world, had achieved commercial operation. However, in August 2021, Medupi’s unit four generator exploded, resulting in massive damage, exorbitant costs and a reduction in generation capacity. Repairs are expected to be completed by August 2024.

Even with the damage, Medupi has managed to record improvements, Ramaphosa said. Prior to Eskom’s correction of defects at the power station, its energy availability factor was 64%. This year, Medupi’s energy availability factor is at around 85%.

“So what I can say is that there is improvement. And we have now collectively as a nation come to realise that these power stations, as they are being built, are really complex processes. And, at times, when they are not well designed, they become even more complex,” the president said.

“It is something that we have been suffering from, because the design defects have actually contributed to a large extent to the load-shedding that we are currently having.”

Ramaphosa said investigations into the companies responsible for the design defects are underway. There are also efforts to get back some of the money lost through the lengthy construction process. 

“That work is ongoing, because having spent so much money in constructing these two power stations, we obviously need to do thorough investigations to find out precisely what we spent money on,” he said.

“And  some of it must result in looking at everything that happened — including the design process and the operational incapability of some of these power stations. So that work is underway.”

In a response to a question by DA leader John Steenhuisen, Ramaphosa said that he could not have foreseen the power station trips when he announced his plan to end load-shedding two months ago. Steenhuisen asked whether ministers Pravin Gordhan and Gwede Mantashe would be dealt with for the failures that have led to the crisis prevailing.

“Yes, admittedly, some mistakes have been made along the line. And we are looking at that and we will be following through on what needs to be done,” Ramaphosa said.

“Now load-shedding continues to happen to the detriment of our economy, the detriment of our people. Nobody in the country is happy with load-shedding — including myself. And we are working on it … The two ministers are focussed on it.”