Eskom loss expected to be the biggest the South African government has ever seen

Eskom, which supplies about 95% of South Africa’s power and is reliant on government bailouts to remain solvent, is set to announce its second consecutive multi-billion rand annual loss on Tuesday. The big question is: How many billions?

The state-owned utility forecast in January that its loss would widen to about R20 billion ($1.4 billion) in the year through March, from R2.3 billion the year before.

But Anton Eberhard, who sits on a government team that’s advising on a rescue plan for Eskom, told a conference in Lisbon last month the shortfall would be at least R25 billion.

Either way, the loss would be a record for a state company, eclipsing the R14.6 billion state oil and gas company PetroSA burnt through in the year through March 2015 after a massive asset writedown.

The utility’s precarious financial state has now become a national problem, with the government giving it a R128 billion bailout over the next three fiscal years to keep operating.

Eskom has been struggling to produce enough power to meet demand from its aging coal-fired plants, and two new ones currently under construction are running years behind schedule and way over budget.

The utility isn’t generating enough cash to service both its interest and debt repayments, despite having secured tariff increases of more than 500% since 2007, according to Eberhard, a professor at the University of Cape Town.

The release of the results may coincide with the announcement of a temporary replacement for outgoing Chief Executive Officer Phakamani Hadebe, who leaves at the end of the month.

The utility may also get a new chief restructuring officer, who will help reorganize its debt and oversee the process of splitting it into generation, transmission and distribution units.

Eskom revealed in May that it owed R440 billion at the end of March, R273 billion of which was government-guaranteed.

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Eskom loss expected to be the biggest the South African government has ever seen