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Eskom quickly backpedals on statement on permanent load shedding for two years, hints at ‘good performance’ incentives for staff

Eskom quickly backpedals on statement on permanent load shedding for two years,  hints at ‘good performance’ incentives for staff
Eskom generates almost 90% of South Africa’s electricity. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Eskom clarifies its media briefing statement on rolling blackouts while the new Eskom board sets ambitious targets and hints at staff incentives to boost embattled power stations.

A few short hours after an “urgent media briefing”, Eskom backtracked somewhat hastily, saying some media headlines that screamed dire warnings of permanent rolling blackouts for two years were incorrect.

“Eskom has considered implementing permanent stage two and three load shedding to give the public more predictability. However, this is not possible as it would not guarantee that load shedding would remain at the lower levels,” spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshasha clarified on Sunday afternoon.

See more in Daily Maverick: “Ramaphosa’s ‘Energy Action Plan’ — how is it faring half a year later?

The confusion from the press came in when chairman of the Eskom board Mpho Makwana quite clearly said that the execution of the recovery plan relied on power stations being given the space to add additional capacity and do proper maintenance without firefighting, “…or create some predictability by implementing a permanent stage two or three (load shedding) for the next two years in order to give sufficient space for maintenance while giving the country a level of predictability or consistency to plan their livelihoods better. Shuttling from one stage to another within a short space of time is not good for the business community”, he said.

Makwana told journalists earlier in the day that the board had been in office for 110 days and had to hit the ground running, with more than 50 meetings of various board committees over 112 days.

“The generation recovery plan that was approved by the board on 10 December, has been stress tested. The plant performance recovery plan which is at the final stages of being approved by the shareholder will be driven vigorously and an external project management company will assist the board in stress testing and monitoring the execution of this recovery plan,” Makwana said.

Recovery in ‘at least two years’

However, he said that realistically, the recovery of the Eskom coal fleet could not be achieved in the short term. “It will take at least two years to improve the energy availability factor (EAF) from the current 58% to 70%. The journey of the turnaround will see a stretch target EAF being driven toward 60% by 31 March 2023, a mere 10 weeks away, then 65% EAF by 31 March 2024 and 70% by 31 March 2025,” he said.

Chris Yelland, an energy analyst and managing director of EE Business Intelligence, says this could be quite difficult and represents an extremely ambitious target. “EAF has been on a downward trend for the last 10 years and it represents the average of 80 generators. Before EAF can start to go up, it needs to bottom out and then start climbing so a two-year growth to an annual EAF of 70% is going to be quite a stretch,” he says.

Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum last week, an overly confident Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told Reuters that rolling blackouts would be a thing of the past in 12 to 18 months.

Makwana warned that factors key to the success of Eskom’s recovery include fixing systematic issues such as leadership, organisational culture and poor internal controls.

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Makwana said the quickest targets would be the recovery of the Kendal, Matla, Majuba , Duvha, Tutuka and Kusile power stations, which should be prioritised in terms of human resources, capital allocation and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) support.

“The recovery of the three units at Kusile, equivalent to 2,160MW send-out, must be prioritised,” he said, adding that the current estimated return to service is the first quarter of 2024. Other critical action points include driving the commissioning of Kusile unit 5 which will add an additional 720MW by August 2023.

The Eskom board says the combination of restoring the six stations to a “reliable” condition and an additional unit at Kusile will lead to the end of rolling blackouts within two years. However, Makwana said the better-performing power stations such as Matimba, Medupi and Lethabo would also need capex allocation, manpower and maintenance time to ensure continued good performance.

Staff motivation

When it came to internal staff motivation, Makwana said the power utility currently offered “no incentive for good performance”. This hints at increased staff incentives at better-performing power stations. This is unlikely to sit well with Eskom users who face a whopping 18.65% tariff increase from April, followed by another increase of 12.74% from April 2024.

Yelland says it sounds as if the board is considering staff incentives at the power station level, where morale is very low. “But bonuses have to be carefully thought through to avoid perverse incentives by people playing the system,” he cautions.

Makwana warned that although the country is experiencing higher stages of load shedding (stage six in recent weeks and daily rolling blackouts since 1 January), it was likely to deteriorate further in winter when electricity demand was higher. BM/DM

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Barry Messenger says:

    Undoubtedly the morale at power station level must be low. I would hope any incentive schemes would be in parallel with strong corruption-busting activities?

  • Barry Messenger says:

    It is always worrying when the Chair and the CEO differ publicly…

  • John Weinkove says:

    There is no reason to believe that power generation will improve in two years. If, as is suggested that the boilers have been damaged by high sulfur coal, then they need to be replaced. The experience with the new power stations is that this could take ten years. It is what it is.

  • jeyezed says:

    Staff incentives, if financial, could be met from the salaries not paid to fired deadwood and imprisoned criminals from their ranks. If they aren’t culling the bloated workforce as part of this exercise, it is fiction to believe that two years will see the end of load-shedding.

  • Grant Thiselton says:

    Maybe I’m not reading this correctly, but I can’t see anywhere in the article a plan to bring IPPs into the overall generation capacity. Makwana states, “the recovery of the Eskom coal fleet could not be achieved in the short term”. If it’s going to take two years or longer to get the generation capacity to what the country needs, the IPPs and investment in renewable energy must be considered as part of the solution so that the rolling blackouts plan for stage two for two years can be avoided.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    Chris Yelland is spot on. Besides, if Kippie is still smuggling in loads of shale, sandstone and dolorite in with the coal you can have as many Board meetings as you like. It will not improve one little bit.

  • Peter Dexter says:

    If the Eskom monopoly is maintained and the private sector allowed to “fiddle on the fringes” (presumably after crossing palms) we won’t turn it around. Deregulate! Simple and promote competition!

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