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R107m Steenbras Dam scheme upgrade in the works to help Cape Town ease loadshedding

18th September 2023

By: News24Wire

  

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A R107-million refurbishment of the Steenbras Hydro Pumped Storage Scheme is on the pipeline, with Capetonians hoping it will bring further relief from load shedding.

This week, the City of Cape Town's mayoral committee recommended that the council approve funding for the provision of professional services for the refurbishment project over the next few years.

Mayco Member for Energy Beverley van Reenen said refurbishment fell into the City's plan to "provide load shedding protection of up to four stages where feasible" within the next two years.

"This multi-year contract for the provision of professional services comprises some R107-million to enable the refurbishment of this valuable Cape Town asset that is protecting customers from up to two stages of loadshedding where possible," she said.

"The contract period is 108 months from date of commencement and is programmed to start 15 February 2024 and end 30 June 2032. It will lay the foundation for the refurbishment of the plant."

"All due process will be followed in terms of regulatory and legislative requirements. The budget and execution of the professional services will determine the final budget and delivery programme."

Langa business owner Siseko Mngxali said that while he would want more information on the details of the project, it sounded like a good idea on the surface. 

"Any insulation from load shedding helps businesses tremendously. Small businesses are having to absorb more costs, such as using gas for cooking," he said.

Mngxali added that some township areas were serviced by Eskom. Unlike those serviced by the City of Cape Town, they were unlikely to benefit from a project at Steenbras Dam.

The Strandfontein Ratepayers Association has raised concerns about the project, saying they feared it would be a "waste of money", and that the funding could be better spent on supporting community projects.

"The City can't even keep the street lights or robots going. They can't maintain our roads or protect the safety of our learners. Yet they want to spend billions as a political ploy to entice our people to vote for them," it said.

The Camps Bay and Clifton Ratepayers Association's Chris Willemse said if the upgrade would protect the city from another stage of loadshedding, it would be money well spent. He said that while the amount might sound like a steep investment, it was not very much in the context of the City's budget.

Willemse added that while many residents had invested in alternative loadshedding solutions such as inverters, they still needed to be protected against high levels of load shedding.

"Inverters still need to be charged. If there are long periods of power outage, the ability of inverters to recharge is seriously compromised. Every stage makes a difference," he said.

'People’s lives have been completely altered'

Milnerton Ratepayers Association chairperson Bouwe van der Eems said that residents often benefitted from lower loadshedding schedules in the afternoons and evenings, while businesses felt the brunt of the higher stages during the day.

He said the City's plan to protect residents and businesses from loadshedding would become increasingly important if the problems plaguing Eskom worsened.

"If we get to Stage 8 of loadshedding, we’re talking about serious business. That’s going to affect telecoms and banking services," he added.

If Cape Town could remain on a lower stage, it would go a long way to protecting the local economy, Van der Eems believes.

Gugulethu Business Forum chairperson Mlungisi Mazana said loadshedding was at the stage where "we don't care where the electricity comes from".

"Looking at what the economy is losing, any innovation to prevent loadshedding is welcome. People's lives have been completely altered. Crime is increasing, and people are losing their livelihoods," he said.

Mazana said he hopes that small businesses will be able to benefit from the construction project, especially seen as they are among the worst affected by the power outages.

Jacques Moolman, president of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that loadshedding had multiple direct and indirect impacts on Cape Town businesses, with the net effect being an increased cost of doing business.

"Impact estimates vary greatly, but the Western Cape government last year estimated an economic loss of R500-million per load shedding stage per day, which equates to a loss to the Western Cape economy of around R75-million per stage per day. The major portion of that economic loss is felt in Cape Town," he said.

He added that some members and partner organisations had reported declines in productivity of between 30% and 40%.

"Reduced loadshedding equates to less economic disruption and lower costs of sourcing alternative power. A reduction of a single loadshedding stage can make the difference between failure and success for a marginal business operating with extremely tight margins," Moolman said.

He welcomed the significant investment into refurbishing the hydro plant.

"In many ways, the Steenbras Scheme illustrates why local government has such a key role to play in mitigating the disastrous impact of loadshedding. We hope to see more local government authorities enter into public-private partnerships to procure power that can lessen reliance on Eskom."

The 180-megawatt Steenbras Hydro Pump Station consists of four turbines that are used to generate electricity. During peak electricity demand, it channels water from Upper Steenbras to Lower Steenbras through the turbine generator to create electricity.

When electricity usage is low, usually between 23:00 and 07:00, the turbines pump the water back to the Upper Steenbras Dam to be re-used the next day.

Cape Town is the only city in South Africa to own and operate a large pumped hydroelectric scheme, said Van Reenen.

"Importantly, all Capetonians benefit directly or indirectly from the City’s power generation management and loadshedding protection as it also protects critical City infrastructure used for service provision and protects the City’s electricity network," she said.

Moolman cited the findings of a PWC report stating that, in 2022, South Africa imported solar panels worth an estimated R5-billion – up from R4-billion in 2021.  

"If there is a silver lining to loadshedding it is the acceleration of a boom in the green energy sector and renewable infrastructure such as solar panels. This could be of particular benefit to Cape Town which is considered by many to be the country’s green energy hub," he added.

"Much remains to be done to mitigate the impact of loadshedding, but in our view the key intervention required is the deregulation of energy supply.

"We believe the free market can provide the necessary impetus to drive energy sector investment, and we are already seeing many success stories."

Edited by News24Wire

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