Fears over SA power shortages

Residents and business operators in the country’s Eastern and Western Cape areas have been adversely affected by relentless electricity blackouts that have dogged the regions since November last year. The power cuts have dramatically stunted business in the areas, at one stage costing business in Cape Town an estimated R500 million in one week. However while there have been continuous promises from Cape local government officials and officials at national power utility Eskom that the situation would “soon” be rectified, the continuation of the “power struggles” has raised fears that the problem is bigger than South Africa can handle. Widespread electricity shortages are expected to cast a dark shadow over the entire Southern Africa region next year when the disastrous toll of rapidly soaring demand for power against inadequate supply is expected to reach its peak. As the imminent problem has become a serious cause for concern throughout the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the troubles South Africa is facing are expected to add a gloomy dimension. South Africa is one of the region’s major exporters of power, and is understood to share its excesses with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, among other countries in the 14 member grouping. With South Africa failing to meet its own demand, experts note that the chances of the region making adequate preparations for the looming shortages – and being able to beat them – are relatively slim. They say the only way out for SADC at the moment is “some form” of unified action against the imminent threat of darkness. Back in Cape Town, Eskom Managing Director for Transmission, Jacob Maroga, is on record as saying the blackouts in the area will continue, at least until a R1.1 billion project to upgrade power lines from Mpumalanga to Koeberg is finished. While Eskom has proposed a project to splash an estimated R93 billion on upgrading power lines and stations throughout the next five years, some have accused the local utility of dragging its feet to the detriment of local electricity users. The South African government has tabled plans to pave the way for increased power generation capacity through the entrance of new players in the electricity production industry. Among other plans, the government is understood to have approved a 20-year plan to meet the country’s future energy requirements. The strategy reportedly includes restarting four mothballed plants and building gas-fired facilities and a pebble bed nuclear reactor. The four coal stations are expected to add 2 700 megawatts to the grid’s 37 000MW capacity by 2007 and 4 000MW by 2011. Another 15 000MW will be added through various new facilities by 2024 and peaking capacity will rise an extra 3 150MW, mostly from gas turbines. The state plans are additional to Eskom proposals to splash an estimated R93 billion on upgrading power lines and stations over the next five years.

April 2006
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