‘Give me 18 to 36 months’, says Joburg mayor Mpho Phalatse to residents buckling under endless blackouts
In just two days, Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse has shifted the city’s energy policy from state-led to independent power producer-led, tossing out the practice of using Eskom’s energy to build revenues.
Successive ANC governments in Johannesburg grew fat by adding levies to Eskom’s bulk price for electricity. The city’s budget is 30% funded by the additional taxes it puts on Eskom’s already expensive product. Now, Johannesburg’s DA Mayor Mpho Phalatse plans to bring independent power producers on to the city grid as quickly as possible.
“It is important to realise that when Joburg, the country’s economic hub — which makes up 15% of the country’s GDP — cannot keep the lights on, it means that mass economic activity is suspended for hours on end, undermining all efforts to build a post-Covid economy,” said Phalatse.
“Within the next three months, City Power will go out to the market for RFPs (requests for proposals), and a tender process will follow that. Once this is done, we can expect to see projects go online in a phased approach over 18 to 36 months,” said Phalatse, as she closed the city’s first Energy Indaba, which refreshingly turned out not to be merely a talk shop.
Johannesburg residents are having a bleak winter. Power cuts now last for days as the system collapses under the twin weights of cable and copper theft and the burden imposed on an old design by daily load shedding.
Phalatse has promised a plan to buy and store energy from the private sector and elsewhere (like individual households) to end load shedding.
“If we are to relegate load shedding to the history books, Johannesburg requires 100MW per stage of load shedding… meaning that if we had an additional 200MW when the clock strikes five tonight [when Eskom’s power cuts were due to kick in], innovation would shield the city and the city would sustain economic activity,” said Phalatse, who trained as a medical doctor.
Her infrastructure MMC, Michael Sun, is heading to Cape Town before June to see how the Mother City shields its residents from at least one load shedding level every time there are blackouts.
The team will share knowledge on how to manage requests for information and requests for proposals and procurement, which can take longer than it takes to build new power plants, Phalatse said.
The mayor said she was being conservative with her pledge to change the city’s energy landscape in 18 to 36 months.
“I believe we can move even quicker and raise necessary funds by allowing existing IPPs to rent our distribution network through wheeling (the process by which IPPS link to the public grid). This is a win-win for both the consumer and City Power, but we must ensure that the grid works.”
This could mean that buying electricity becomes like purchasing data — you have several retailers to buy from via your bank or payments app, or from a shop.
Meanwhile, the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) on Tuesday approved two private power projects of 100MW each in North West.
This signals a fresh impetus to take the load off Eskom, which now cuts power every day and burns billions in emergency diesel stocks to keep its gas turbines spinning. DM