Our Burning Planet

POWER CRISIS

City of Johannesburg puts out begging bowl to kick-start rolling blackouts prevention plan up to stage 3 

City of Johannesburg puts out begging bowl to kick-start rolling blackouts prevention plan up to stage 3 
From left: MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Michael Sun, Mayor of Johannesburg, Mpho Phalatse and CEO of City Power, Tshifularo Mashava during a media briefing regarding the City’s interventions to manage and mitigate rolling blackouts, 26 January 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

City of Joburg  plans to avoid stages 1 - 3 of rolling blackouts in 6 months’ time, but it needs to raise R401-million first. It also revealed that rolling blackouts had cost City Power R474-million over a one-year period.

“It is our firm belief that electricity is not a privilege. It’s not a luxury, but it is a right. Our residents must enjoy it, it must be uninterrupted, and certainly must be affordable,” said Johannesburg’s Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Michael Sun during a press briefing on Thursday in the City of Johannesburg Council Chamber.

Sun was speaking about the City’s intention of energy equality with executive Mayor of Johannesburg Mpho Phalatse and CEO of City Power Tshifularo Mashava, which is part of their sustainable Energy Strategy to mitigate rolling blackouts up to stage 3.

Mayor Phalatse, who hours later faced (another) motion of no confidence by the opposition bloc later that day in chambers, explained how City Power’s Sustainable Energy Strategy can mitigate rolling blackouts. 

MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Michael Sun and Executive Mayor of Johannesburg Mpho Phalatse, rolling blackouts

MMC for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Michael Sun (left) and
Executive Mayor of Johannesburg Mpho Phalatse during a media briefing regarding the City’s interventions to manage and mitigate rolling blackouts, City of Johannesburg Council Chamber, 26 January 2023. (Photo: Julia Evans)

R401-million short-term plan to halt rolling blackouts at stage 3

Phalatse reminded the media that while Eskom announced that stages 2 and 3 will be permanent for the next 18 months, this doesn’t guarantee we won’t reach higher levels — as evident by the fact that we reached stage 5 as of this morning. 

So, the City has a short-to-medium term plan, which could be implemented in six months if they got the funds today, to avert rolling blackouts up to stage 3.

CEO of City Power Mashava explained to Daily Maverick that this means when Eskom is on stages one through three, Joburg will not be affected, but when Eskom reaches stage four, Joburg will be at stage one.

They just need R401-million to do so, which the City does not have access to.

So the city is reaching out to development finance institutes, the private sector, the provincial government, as well as national government to fund the project.

“We will be leveraging our status as the economic hub of the country, and the good governance practices of the multi-party government,” said Phalatse.

What the City would do with the money

  • With R20-million:

The City would recommission the two existing Open Cycle Gas Turbine Stations. 

“This would of course require the City to procure and burn diesel,” said Phalatse. “We are already sitting with 1.2-million litres of diesel for these sites. This would add 74MW [megawatts] to the network, when needed.”

  • With R85-million:

City Power would make use of Ripple Relay Systems to remotely regulate high-energy use products such as geysers, swimming pool motors ect, which would save 80MW when needed. 

  • With R175-million: 

The City would procure and distribute Smart Meters and communication that would enable City Power to limit the amount of power distributed to homes — having the potential to save 322MW when needed.

“So instead of completely turning the power off, we will be able to supply homes with enough energy to power essential needs,” said Phalastse, adding that, “this will not be done on a whim but will be communicated to customers when needed. The communication system will require R28-million.”


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  • With R120-million

The City could avert roling blackouts up to stage 3 with an Energy Management System upgrade, costing R120-million, that will enable City Power to better monitor, control, and optimise the performance of its transmission system. 

“We’re looking at technology to work for us,” Mashuva told Daily Maverick. “So instead of load shedding, we’re looking at load limiting. So it means you will keep your lights on in the house, but we’ll ask you maybe not to use your stove, not use aircons, depending on the demand.”

Independent power producers bids open

Part of the City’s Sustainable Energy Strategy is for City Power to secure 500 MW of electricity from independent power producers — which would allow the City to offset up to Stage 5 of rolling blackouts.

The idea was first introduced at the City’s energy indaba in May last year, an event aimed at reducing the City’s energy dependence on state-owned entity Eskom.

Following the Indaba, City Power put out Requests for Proposals for Short-Term Power Purchase Agreements (up to 36 months) in November 2022, set to close on 10 February this year.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Get a load of this – these South African cities have a plan to ditch Eskom and end power cuts

Alongside this, Phalatse said the City is currently undergoing an approval process for Ministerial Determination to procure power on a longer-term basis from Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

“By going out into the market now, City Power seeks to secure extra capacity from diversified energy sources, including solar, gas, battery storage, waste-to-energy, as well as the dispatchable option of gas-to-power,” said Phalatse.

Paying residents for excess power ‘not feasible’ right now

Unlike the City of Cape Town, which has recently been exempted from competitive bidding and tendering processes for the buying of electricity from businesses or households — Mashuva said for City Power, “looking at our cash position, it is just not feasible.”

However, Mashuva said the model they put forward considers credit rebates for other services.

“At this point in time, our customers are not able to pay us everything — you find that the electricity bill is old, the water bill is old,” said Mashuva.

“So what we’re looking at is a credit system where yes, we buy from you, then we’ll credit you for your rates and taxes — credit you for your refuse, or credit you for your water.”

Theft and vandalism during rolling blackouts rife

Mayor Phalatse said City Power has incurred a cost of R474-million between July 2021 and June 2022 from spending and loss of revenue resulting from rolling blackouts.

“With 205 days of load shedding in 2022, City Power, despite its best efforts, was hard hit, resulting in losses ranging from sales and revenue; employee costs in the form of overtime; equipment failure and damage; and crime-related incidents of theft and vandalism,” said Phalatse.

During an 18-month period (July 2021 to November 2022), City Power experienced 122 days of rolling blackouts with 2,175 incidents of theft and vandalism. 

This has resulted in the entity spending R200-million replacing mini-substations due to theft and vandalism that often occur during rolling blackouts.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “City Power Joburg has already spent 80% of its budget thanks to blackouts, thieves and vandals

“This is not the work of amateur criminals, but it is criminality committed by highly armed and resourced syndicates,” noted Phalatse, who said her office once again wrote to the Gauteng Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela to dedicate resources to this attack on Joburg. 

“Last year, we had a similar meeting with the SAPS leadership made up of the Hawks, Crime Intelligence and Organised Crime, which resulted in a slowdown in the theft and vandalism of critical infrastructure. We wish to see SAPS once again bolstering the crime prevention work of the Joburg Metro Police Department.”

MMC Sun said they couldn’t reveal details regarding their strategy to protect their infrastructure as it’s sensitive and they don’t want criminals to be able to counter the strategies. 

However, CEO Mashuva said, “you can never have enough money on your own as an entity to deal with crime of this nature. And it is for that reason that the partnership with SAPS and other security agencies is quite critical. But we’ve got plans, and some funds have been moved around to allow us to be able to do something as a matter of agency in terms of dealing with these criminals.” DM/OBP

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