Johannesburg’s electricity network is teetering on the edge of total collapse due to load-shedding.
That is according to Tshifularo Mashava, chief executive of the metro’s power distributor — City Power — in comments given to the Sunday newspaper Rapport.
Mashava told the publication that Joburg residents logged about 4,000 electrical faults with City Power per day, but it only had enough manpower to attend to 800 such issues.
On top of that, the city is besieged by vandalism and theft of power infrastructure.
As a result of the breakdowns and crime, the utility has used a year’s stock of replacement parts in just three months.
One of the major problems is that about 60% of Joburg’s substations still require manual switching.
Mashava said the city wants to use its 180MW Kelvin Power Station to implement load-shedding up to two stages lower than the proclaimed national rotation.
That could mean its technicians would be less preoccupied with switching areas on and off regularly.
However, Eskom will not allow this because the power station forms part of the city’s base load profile.
Johannesburg uses an average of about 2,000MW of electricity, including Kelvin’s power.
Although the city has approached the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) about the issue, it was told nothing could be done.
Joburg’s predicament is identical to the one in which the town of Frankfurt in the Free State finds itself.
The town’s private electricity distributor, Rural Maintenance, lost a court case against Eskom earlier this which meant it had to stop implementing lower levels of load-shedding — not load-shedding at all — using a practice it dubbed “voiding”.
Rural Maintenance had argued it was able to supply Frankfurt with its entire electricity demand during certain times of the day using its four solar farms and, therefore, could exempt its residents from load-shedding.
However, Eskom explained that because the town still relied on some of the national utility’s electricity, Rural Maintenance had to implement load-shedding at the same level as the rest of the country.
It could only implement lower levels of load-shedding if its power plants were only switched on during load-shedding.
To avoid implementing load-shedding altogether, Frankfurt needed to be entirely off-grid.
Rural Maintenance has subsequently lowered the output of its solar farms during load-shedding and said it was effectively dumping excess electricity.
However, Eskom told MyBroadband that this was a lie.
“Assuming their dumping claim is also true, we met with Rural Maintenance twice in May and presented them with our standard offer,” Eskom said.
“This entails that we wish to buy any excess electricity generated by their plant.”
In response, Rural Maintenance CEO Chris Bosch said Eskom had only started investigating the possibility of buying electricity from the private provider.
The Democratic Alliance has accused Eskom of colluding with Frankfort’s Mafube municipality to keep Rural Maintenance from implementing voiding.
That came after the municipality failed to pitch up in court for Rural Maintenace’s case against Eskom.
Mafube buys electricity from Rural Maintenance, but did not provide the necessary affidavit confirming it had authorised the private power distributor to bring the application against Eskom.
It was on this basis that the court dismissed Rural Maintenance’s case and ruled in favour of Eskom.
“By using their licensee privileges and transmission monopolies, Mafube and Eskom have locked Frankfort into Eskom’s load-shedding vice grip and frustrated any attempts by organised communities to generate electricity, wheel it back into the grid, and ease the effects of load shedding on residents,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen.
Why Cape Town can implement less load-shedding
The City of Cape Town can implement lower stages of load-shedding or altogether exempt its residents from power cuts, depending on the national load-shedding level.
This is thanks to its Steenbras pumped storage scheme.
Like Eskom’s open-cycle gas turbines, this facility provides supplementary power and does not run consistently.
That means it is not part of the city’s regular load profile, enabling Cape Town to implement less load-shedding — typically only for a limited period.