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Ramokgopa denies President’s pre-Stage 6 SoNA assertions caused embarrassment and insists loadshedding ‘corner has been turned’

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa

11th February 2024

By: Terence Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has move to defend the statement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address (SoNA) on Thursday night that “the end of loadshedding is finally within reach”. This, despite South Africa rapidly descending into Stage 6 loadshedding only hours after the conclusion of the speech and the prospect of ongoing high levels of power disruptions until at least Wednesday.

Speaking as a hastily convened briefing – moved to Sunday instead of the Monday morning initially scheduled for the Minister’s regular update on the implementation of the Energy Action Plan – Ramokgopa refused to accept that the President’s statement had caused any embarrassment.

Instead, he argued that the SoNA statement was in line with both his repeated assertions that the “corner had been turned”, as well as a fact-based analysis of loadshedding trends, which he even went as far as to suggest pointed to Eskom “outperforming” against its summer plan that warned of ongoing loadshedding at Stage 4.

“So, I really don't understand what is meant by [the SoNA statement being] embarrassing,” he remarked in response to a question posed by Engineering News.

He then highlighted that Eskom and government had regularly noted the “inherent risk” of periods of intense loadshedding given the commitment that “no corners would be cut” on planned maintenance or safety, notwithstanding the propensity for unplanned outages across the poorly maintained and aged coal fleet.

Claims of sabotage made by African National Congress secretary-general Fikile Mbalula were downplayed, but not entirely dismissed, with Ramokgopa indicating that Eskom continued to investigate any suspicious incident with the help of the law-enforcement agencies. But he also expressed confidence in the Eskom leadership, management and workers and their commitment to ending loadshedding.

Eskom head of generation Bheki Nxumalo indicated that the rapid deterioration that led to a series of changes to the intensity of loadshedding after the President’s address – initially from Stage 2 to Stage 3 at 22:00, then to Stage 4 at 2:00 and then later to Stage 6 – had been triggered by the failure of two 800 MW-apiece units at Medupi and high levels of boiler tube leaks across nine power stations, which collectively reduced supply by 4 400 MW.

One of the Medupi units was removed from service as Ramaphosa was wrapping up his address, because a chain used to help remove ash from the boiler had failed. A second Medupi unit tripped soon afterwards, resulting in unplanned outages spiking to above 17 600 MW and the declaration of Stage 6.  Planned outages stood at above 6 700 MW at the time of the declaration, while partial load losses were above 6 200 MW.

Ramokgopa indicated that the intensity of loadshedding should reduce materially by Wednesday and immediately following the Sunday briefing, Eskom announced Stage 5 loadshedding, despite unplanned breakdowns of above 17 500 MW and planned maintenance of more than 6 800 MW.

Eskom said the modest de-escalation in loadshedding was facilitated by Eskom having “successfully replenished its pumped storage dam levels”, as well as the return of some other generation units.

Nxumalo insisted the generation business remained focused on achieving an energy availability factor (EAF) of 65% by the end of its financial year on March 31, and denied that the target had been to achieve an average EAF of 65% for the entire 2023/24 period.

The EAF has been on a declining trend for several years and dropped to a dismal 54% last year, well below even the disputed EAF recovery targets set by the Eskom board. The net result was South Africa’s worst-ever year for loadshedding.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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