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South Africa’s Power Plant Repairs Exacerbate Outages

South Africa’s Power Plant Repairs Exacerbate Outages
A shop owner gives change to a customer in a mini-market, during a period of loadshedding, in the township of Namahadi, Frankfort, South Africa, on Saturday, June 3, 2023. The rural town of Frankfort has returned into scheduled blackouts, following a court-issued ban sought by Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. against Rural Free State (Pty) Ltd., who were easing loadshedding schedules for residents by providing power from a local photovoltaic solar plant.

South Africa’s return to deeper electricity outages is due to an increase in repairs at the state power utility’s plants that are needed to improve the reliability of the grid, according to the nation’s electricity minister. 

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. has implemented record power cuts this year mainly due to breakdowns at its coal-fired units. So-called stage six loadshedding, which removes 6,000 megawatts from the grid to prevent a total blackout, returned on Tuesday for the first time since mid-July.

Electricity demand declines at the end of South Africa’s winter, which creates a window to increase maintenance, and the schedule for that work needs to be implemented as planned, Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said in an online briefing on Tuesday.

“There will not be a shortcut to the ending of loadshedding,” he said. “Maintenance is the right thing to do.”

Planned outages, during which scheduled maintenance is conducted, increased by about 30% over the course of five days to reach 6,683 megawatts on Sept. 1, according to a presentation given during the briefing. That decreased to 5,467 megawatts on Tuesday.

The National Union of Mineworkers, the biggest labor group at Eskom, criticized the company for not improving the electricity availability factor, an indicator of usable generation capacity. The group demands “a measurable strategy” to end power cuts, it said in a statement.

A 254 billion rand ($13.2 billion) debt-relief package announced in February’s budget aimed at strengthening Eskom’s balance sheet and covering all interest payments will allow the utility to spend what it needs to fix its plants, Ramokgopa said. The power company received a first installment of 16 billion rand on Aug. 3.

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