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The tough task of getting power back to Eldorado Park

20 April 2022 - 16:53
Preparations are under way to bring the repaired Eldorado Park substation back on to the grid after it caught alight on Good Friday.
Preparations are under way to bring the repaired Eldorado Park substation back on to the grid after it caught alight on Good Friday.
Image: Gill Gifford

Efforts to restore power to the greater Eldorado Park area after the local substation blew up and caught fire on Good Friday are finally succeeding as technicians battle against the additional challenges of load-shedding, cold weather and cable theft.

The area will have power fully restored by early Thursday morning after going almost a full week without.

Investigations into what caused the substation fire are ongoing. The possibilities that have been punted are: worn-out infrastructure suddenly blowing up, failed efforts by cable thieves to steal the high-voltage lines; and — as speculated by Joburg Mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse — deliberate sabotage.

“The security guard who was on shift at the time said he just heard ‘boom’ and it exploded and caught fire,” said Tiro Mokgosi, acting general manager of the Lenasia service delivery centre who lead the repair work.

The substation houses three giant transformers — the third being a backup — and a feeder board. The feeder board, he said, is like a giant version of a domestic DB board, and is where the wires and cables feeding power to different areas are housed.

“Transformer 1 exploded and caught fire. It was cold and the wind was strong, and so it blew the fire across to the feeder board and caused a lot of smoke and carbon damage to the other two transformers,” Mokgosi said.

The entire substation was shut down and repair work was started immediately. Technicians had to clean the entire area and then start with days of repairs.

By Wednesday, transformer 1 had been floated, final tests had been done and it was ready to be phased in by late afternoon.

“Floating”, Mokgosi said, is the term for when a repaired unit is brought online again. Because it involves high-voltage cables and huge amounts of electricity, the process involves slowly warming it up and getting everything live again and can take up to 12 hours before it can be switched back on.

Transformer 2 is ready and 3 was ready to be floated, he said.

“We are planning to start switching back on again about 4pm, but it’s a difficult process in which the electricity will be on and off and on and off again until the load is balanced.

“A lot of the community here is in the middle of Ramadan, so they will start breaking their fast at the same time, there will be a surge in demand and we may have to drop some circuits.

Tiro Mokgosi, acting general manager of the Lenasia service delivery centre, which leads the repair work at the burnt Eldorado Park substation, indicates toward the feeder board that was burnt on Good Friday.
Tiro Mokgosi, acting general manager of the Lenasia service delivery centre, which leads the repair work at the burnt Eldorado Park substation, indicates toward the feeder board that was burnt on Good Friday.
Image: Gill Gifford

“Hopefully it will go well and then, about midnight when everyone is sleeping, we will be able to get things balanced and fully restored.”

In the meantime, community members who are fed up with ongoing outages and rampant cable theft in the area have taken to patrolling the area at night to protect their electricity infrastructure.

“City Power and the police and security are trying, but nothing is working. Nobody cares as much as the local community. We care because this is where we live and we are tired of never having power, so we are protecting it ourselves,” said councillor Juwairiya Kaldine.

Fellow councillor Dwain Ponsonby said they were conducting their own investigations into the cause of the substation explosion.

“We are still busy, but we are getting answers and we will come up with a solution long before the police and the authorities,” he said.

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