South Africa

POWER CRISIS

Nelson Mandela Bay businesses feel the pinch after substation failure knocks out electricity for hours

Nelson Mandela Bay businesses feel the pinch after substation failure knocks out electricity for hours
A fault at the Chatty Substation left large parts of Nelson Mandela Bay's industrial area without power on Tuesday. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Large parts of the Nelson Mandela Bay industrial area were left without power for more than half the working day on Tuesday. It’s the 36th unplanned power failure of the year, having a disastrous effect on businesses, which have to weigh up whether to send workers home for the day.

As heavy rain fell in Nelson Mandela Bay on Tuesday, 27 June, large parts of the metro’s industrial areas lost power for hours after the major substation providing power to the metro tripped mid-morning, with electricity only being restored after 5pm.

Last week, the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber released a quarterly survey showing that businesses have been losing a total of R1-billion a month since the start of 2023 owing to severe rolling blackouts.

These staggering financial losses have forced some of the larger businesses in the metro to consider retrenching their workforces by as much as 20% should higher-stage blackouts continue.

But Chamber CEO Denise van Huyssteen said unscheduled power outages, caused by among other issues the impact of rolling blackouts on electricity infrastructure, were becoming as big a problem. 

About 60% of the metro’s electricity is used by the manufacturing industry where unscheduled power outages often have a disastrous impact as their processes are interrupted. 

“The high number of frequent unplanned power outages is of major concern to local businesses,” Van Huyssteen said.

“Since the start of the year, we have recorded 36 power failures in the industrial areas of the metro,” she said. None of these was because of rolling blackouts.

“When this happens factories come to a halt and they have to make calls on whether they should suspend production for the day and send employees home. This in turn triggers the additional implementation of short time and resultant wage losses, as well as production targets not being met and customer orders not being fulfilled timeously,” Van Huyssteen said.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality confirmed that on Tuesday a 133kV circuit breaker on the Chatty substation tripped, causing the industrial areas of Perseverance, Deal Party and Struandale to be without power. Power was only restored after 5pm.

“Incidents such as the power outage of today have become a regular occurrence due to a number of factors, including the damaging impact of load shedding on the electricity infrastructure, which incorporates around 3,000 substations located across a wide geographic spread.

“The metro’s electricity infrastructure is aged and has not been upgraded and regularly maintained, and this is further exacerbated by the frequent on/off switching of substation power. Switchgear is failing and electrical faults are becoming the norm,” Van Huyssteen said.

“A few overworked electricians are running from breakdown to breakdown,” she added.

Apart from the extended power failure in the industrial area, electricians also had to deal with several suburbs that were left without electricity after substations tripped.

Van Huyssteen said it was vital that the municipality accelerate processes to ensure that enough experienced electricians were appointed to undertake urgent work to maintain and repair the electricity infrastructure, which is currently in a fragile state.

The Business Chamber has been raising this issue for years and in 2022 obtained a court order declaring electricity rate increases unlawful as they argued, among other issues, that the municipality should not be making the consumer pay for their inefficiency.

“In addition to the maintenance issues, rampant vandalism of cables and substation infrastructure are further damaging the electricity infrastructure and causing ongoing power outages,” Van Huyssteen said. DM

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