Eskom’s completion of the last generating unit at the Limpopo-based Medupi power station will not make a difference in the lives of farmers. In fact, it is no secret that the Lephalale station is unreliable. This is the view of James Styan, the author of Blackout: The Eskom Crisis.
“It’s quite public that there are numerous technical problems at Medupi because there were technical mistakes that were made during the design and construction of the power plant that they are trying to fix,” he says.
“These major problems and challenges won’t be fixed overnight because Eskom does not have the money, it seems, to fix it.”
Styan’s interview with Food For Mzansi follows Eskom’s announcement that the Medupi project was finally completed, 14 years after construction started. Eskom describes Madupi as an investment that would power the economy for at least 50 years.
However, Styan says even if the Medupi power plant was fully working, it still would not have made a difference, nor would it have prevented load shedding in Mzansi.
This is because South Africa needs five fully functioning power plants of at least the size of Medupi to eliminate our electricity woes.
“The problem is that most of Medupi has been in operation for six years. Even though the other five generation units were operating for the past couple of years, they are completely unreliable because they have been breaking down,” says Styan.
“For the past year, Eskom has had to switch off the generation units countless times because they aren’t working like they should. This makes the power plant unreliable, and Eskom does not have the funds to repair the mistakes that were made in the construction of the power plant.”
Alternative energy is key
Free State Agriculture operations manager Dr Jack Armour, however, welcomed the news that Medupi attained commercial operation status. But like Styan, he does not believe that it will solve Eskom’s problems nor farmers’ load shedding woes.
“We need to open up more power producers in the country because we are very far from keeping up with the demand,” he says.
Armour explains that the agricultural sector has already reached a point where they find it more economically viable to put out their own alternative energy albeit rather costly.
“It is expensive because Eskom is currently monopolising their energy supply network which is forcing everybody to use the Eskom grid. So, the farmers are still suffering from high cost that Eskom is maintaining.
“So, even if more capacity is coming into place, the problem is the high cost of distributing that capacity. Even if we get a lot of alternative producers coming in and producing energy, Eskom is keeping the price very high by using the grid as something for them to keep making profit,” he says.
Bheki Nxumalo, group executive for Eskom’s group capital division, says the capital cost of the Medupi project is already at R122 billion. Eskom plans to spend just under R135 billion on completion of the plant.
Nxumalo says what the Medupi project is yet to complete the last part of implementing the agreed technical solutions related to the boiler design defects and the balance of the plant.
Eskom believes once these repairs are completed during the next 24 months, the power plant will reliably deliver power to the national grid at full capacity, helping increase energy security for the country.