International experts hired to help fix Eskom, Gordhan tells parliament
The government is bringing in external engineers to investigate the problems at Eskom's power stations, which have seen the country plunged into rolling blackouts since Sunday.
Among other things, these experts will conduct a full operations audit of all power stations to ascertain where the most serious problems lie.
Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan told parliament that the board of Eskom will appoint a panel of experts to compile an in-depth, independent audit to ensure that every technical problem is fully understood.
The board will also institute an urgent review to establish when the Medupi and Kusile power stations will realistically be completed - as well as to determine the extent of design and other operational faults, what steps can be implemented to minimise escalating costs and what can be done to increase output.
In a prepared speech that he did not read out in parliament, Gordhan revealed that:
- finance minister Tito Mboweni will announce measures in the budget speech next week to address some of Eskom’s financial requirements;
- the government is calling on Enel, one of the world’s leading energy suppliers, to provide it with external technical assistance. Enel will be soon sending 2 or 3 coal power station engineers to SA; and
- engineers who were trained by Eskom but left the entity during the period of corruption and state capture to work elsewhere on the continent have indicated their desire to return home and contribute to the rebuilding of Eskom, in the spirit of Thuma Mina.
“The first point we need to tell the public is that Medupi and Kusile were badly designed and badly constructed and are not performing at optimum levels,” Gordhan told MPs, to much heckling from the opposition benches.
He was participating in Tuesday's debate of President Cyril Ramaphosa's state of the nation address (Sona).
In terms of power generation, Gordhan said coal-powered stations give the country 38,639MW, far more than other sources such as water (including peaking pump storage) at 3,324MW, gas at 2,409MW and nuclear at 1,860MW.
“What we are currently faced with is that not all of the 38,000MW or fully installed 45,000MW is available to us,” said Gordhan.
Gordhan explained that there are planned outages of about 5,000MW, which require units to be removed from the grid in order to repair them before bringing them back online. There are also forced or unplanned outages that involve about 5,500MW and occasional partial outages that involve about 3,800MW.
Gordhan admitted that the wrong choices had been made and faulty designs implemented with regards to Medupi and Kusile. He said with the two power stations currently “not performing”, costs had escalated and were now three times higher than expected, with construction seven years late.
He said seven power units had tripped within five hours on Monday, making this a crisis of a scale last experienced in 2014-15.
“These outages have a massive impact on the economy – from mining, big industries, manufacturing to small businesses like coffee shops. It also causes huge frustration, uncertainty, vulnerability and fear amongst communities and households," Gordhan further explained.
“The dependence on diesel as an emergency measure is expensive. Supplies are unreliable. This is not sustainable," he added.
Gordhan also spoke of a determined fightback campaign from various quarters against the government’s attempts to end corruption and state capture.
“Those who are determined to block our efforts have relied on naked populist narratives, fake news [and] cyber aggression. They use diversionary tactics and fake news. They have constituted themselves as an army of deceit, deception and extraction. In short, their actions seek to mask their intentions and divert attention from their extractive activities,” he said.
Despite these attempts, Gordhan said he was confident that the government was well on its way to making sure that state capture is overcome.