/ 23 July 2023

Ramokgopa warns fires at power stations should not be taken lightly

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Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said that although fires are not common occurrences, it is important that these incidents be given urgent attention. 

Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa will visit the Grootvlei power station after a fire broke out Saturday morning, resulting in unit two being put out. 

Delivering his weekly update of the implementation of the energy action plan, Ramokgopa said that beyond written explanations and written reports, he would like to get a visual observation of the extent of the damage. 

Eskom spokesperson Daphne Mokwena, meanwhile, said that the fire erupted after a fuel oil pipe burst close to the boiler on unit two at about 1am on Saturday morning. 

“It was successfully extinguished. The team is cleaning up the oil and will be assessing the damage. Currently, the cables seem to be the ones damaged as well as the pipe which will be repaired” says Mokwena.  

Mokwena said that the damage is not extensive and will not affect the power supply. 

Built in 1969, Grootvlei is one of Eskom’s oldest power stations. It was meant to shut down in 2019, after 50 years’ service, but thanks to the country’s mounting energy problems the life expectancy of the power station was extended to 2027. 

Grootvlei power station supplies 1 200 megawatts to the national grid. 

At his the press briefing, Ramokgopa said the first point to drive home is that every megawatt counts in the context of the electricity crisis and his department is doing everything possible to ensure that the damage caused by the fire is addressed. 

The situation was not an uncommon one, he said, which is why there are firefighters permanently stationed at every power station. 

Not the first time 

In August 2021, Medupi’s, South Africa’s biggest power station, unit four generator exploded as a result of a catastrophic hydrogen explosion, costing the energy grid 700 megawatts. 

“The incident occurred during the activity to displace hydrogen with carbon dioxide and air respectively, for the purposes of finding an external leak,” Eskom said.  

This caused massive damage and inordinate costs which Medupi general manager Zwelu Witbooi said would cost R2.5 billion to repair. Repairs are expected to be completed by August 2024. 

Ramokgopa added that although fires are not common occurrences, it is important that these incidents be given urgent attention. 

“We should be worried that we have had a fire in Medupi that had taken unit four. This should be worrying us that we have such incidents and this requires urgent attention. It is not something that happens regularly but when it happens it has to worry all of us,” Ramokgopa added.  

Lesego Chepape is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa