André de Ruyter: Deliberate acts of sabotage are causing power cuts
For the first time, Eskom has pinned the blame of load-shedding on sabotage — the latest at Lethabo power station in the Free State.
For the first time, Eskom said on Friday, November 19, that “deliberate acts of sabotage” are causing rolling blackouts. When a pylon smashed into a backup line on Wednesday evening at Lethabo Power Station in the Free State, Eskom declared sabotage.
De Ruyter said Lethabo had been a “close shave” saved by the quick-thinking of officials in the generation section of Eskom. Lethabo had until now been one of the most reliable power stations in the Eskom fleet. Nothing was stolen around the area where the pylon went down, ruling out theft as a motive.
De Ruyter said load-shedding would be suspended on Friday, November 19 and that the outlook for the next week is for zero power cuts by Eskom. But sabotage was now a risk that made predictions difficult.
“We are exposed and there is a need for the police and state security to step in,” said De Ruyter, who until now said he had chosen “not to attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence”.
On Thursday, November 18, Eskom reported numerous recent economic crimes or sabotage instances, including boiler tube leaks. Security found a truck driver with 60 seals in his cab, indicating that the coal quality checks at a power station had been compromised. Eskom has also had to change security companies and is using drones to protect its network.
Eskom said the replacement of ‘good’ coal with substandard incombustible coal and bits of rock, a common practice at the height of state capture, had not ended. “We are working against considerable coincidences,” said De Ruyter at a Friday morning briefing.
“It is concerning that suspicious incidents are happening inside power stations,” said Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha, who added that it was impossible to police the utility’s entire 390,000 kilometres of wire that connected its electricity network.
The Lethabo pylon crash and the outages at units 1,2, and 3 of the Matimba Power Station in Limpopo caused load-shedding this week. An extension cord had ‘dropped’ into two units at Matimba — also likely a spoiler act.
On a media visit to Tutuka Power Station in Mpumalanga this week, the power station manager, Sello Mametja, revealed how a fuel oil syndicate had siphoned the equivalent of R100-million, another economic crime unveiled by the utility this week. This piece by News24 explains how it worked. “It is disappointing that there are people out there who will destroy infrastructure to cause load-shedding,” said De Ruyter.
He added that Eskom had not received any power purchase agreements from the Independent Power Producers (IPP) office at the Department of Energy. Nersa, the regulator, had not yet decided on a maximum price for energy producers under the new regime for own generation. “We can’t sign an agreement we haven’t seen,” he said. De Ruyter responded to reports that the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe had blamed Eskom for delays in adding new power to the grid. He said grid access was not an issue and that Eskom had complied fully with all requirements by the IPP office. DM
See Daily Maverick’s report: Daily Maverick readers give a first-hand account of load shedding has played havoc with their businesses. More reader feedback reports to come.
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