What is a fact is that many people think that being off the grid, independent from Eskom, is very much more desirable than being connected to the grid. What is also a fact is that many people do not understand the simple basic fact that Eskom (when not load-shedding) is 90% reliable, while any other form of generation is intermittent or too expensive.
However, they say: “Look at load-shedding!” Let’s stop there for a bit. After former President Thabo Mbeki procrastinated about building new power stations, it was decided to build the Medupi and Kusile power stations. Now, note well – the ruling party, through its investment arm, Chancellor House, bought a 25% stake in Hitachi, which was then contracted to make R80-billion boilers for the two power stations. The problem was that Hitachi did not have the capacity in this country to make them. The result is that Eskom is now busy repairing boilers and, thus, does not have the full use of these power stations. Forget the much quoted “Eskom’s aging power stations”. It’s the new stations which don’t work.
A further problem is that Eskom was being eaten away from within. Some Eskom staff, right now, have a culture of sabotage. In the past, all sorts of Eskom contracts were given out to organisations which were little more than a one-man (or one-woman) band with an email. For people bidding on contracts, Eskom has very extensive document requirements – apart from the usual bumph, they want a safety plan, a QC plan, an accident investigation plan, a safety policy . . . on and on. My practice has had to submit all these before we can register on the Eskom database. But in quite a few instances this requirement was relaxed and the supplier or contractor appointed without any documents. Often, the service was not even provided or the goods not supplied but payment nevertheless made. Since at the time the various Eskom CEOs (at least three) were themselves involved in corrupt activities, any culture of honesty hardly trickled down to Eskom procurement. But now, with Andre de Ruyter in charge, all these dodgy suppliers are being given the boot.
A further problem is that Eskom, right now, has a culture of sabotage. In past years, syndicates stole thousands of tons of coal from Eskom. They bypassed weighbridges, delivered loads of stone and were paid for coal or delivered substandard coal in place of good-quality coal. The returns were in the tens of millions of rands. The syndicates paid off security, truck drivers and coal mine staff. So, Eskom beefed up delivery controls and increased coal delivery by conveyor belt systems between power stations and mines and delivery by rail. The thieves set alight conveyor systems or otherwise sabotaged them. The latest movement is to sabotage power stations (by operating local turbine trips and other means) in order, it seems, to make a point. In all this, Eskom is doing very well, load-shedding or not. However, apparently because of load-shedding, the Western Cape government has now announced it will be spending a total of R80-million to support municipalities to generate, procure and sell their own power so that they can beat load-shedding.
The six candidate municipalities participating in the Municipal Energy Resilience Project in this financial year are the Drakenstein, Mossel Bay, Overstrand, Saldanha Bay, Stellenbosch and Swartland municipalities. You buy this? Think this is a good idea? Dream on. Their only power generation alternatives are solar or wind power. Wind power will see the erection of turbine towers each the height of the tallest building in Cape Town, chopping through bats and birds like a threshing machine. Solar is less invasive but it doesn’t work at night. Wind power requires wind. So, in the middle of a still night, who will these municipalities turn to for power and lights? Ah yes, that favourite scapegoat . . . Eskom.