Government is working with the entire energy sector to ensure that South Africa does not face power shortages and load shedding during the coronavirus lockdown, says Department of Trade and Industry minister Ebrahim Patel.
Responding in a media briefing on Tuesday (24 March), Patel said that government would ensure that the entire energy supply chain continues operating as part of essential services.
“This include working with coal mines through to coal trucks, through to arrangements at the various Eskom plants,” he said. “Generation, transmission, distribution all of those (workers) will be exempted from the lockdown.”
“In addition, we do expect there will be a decreased demand for electricity when some of the larger enterprises begin their shutdown,” Patel said.
“Of course, we will need to work closely together to make sure that all the core maintenance teams from Eskom are able to respond immediately to challenges.”
Eskom has indicated that it does not expect load shedding this week but warned that there is a possibility it will be implemented.
The issue of South Africa’s power cuts dominated the news prior to the coronavirus pandemic, with unions pushing for the use of private and public pensions to rescue Eskomy from crippling debt and spur economic growth.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions advocated the use of so-called prescribed assets, alongside funds held on behalf of state workers by the Public Investment Corp., in a copy of a submission to parliament seen by Bloomberg and confirmed by Cosatu.
However, the issue has been put on the backburner as South Africa focuses its funding on the coronavirus pandemic.
The power utility, meanwhile, has offered to buy surplus electricity from existing generating plants, an indication it thinks it will continue to struggle to meet demand on its own in the short term, according to Reuters.
Eskom said in a request for proposals (RFP) published on a government tender website that it was inviting bids from facilities with at least 5 megawatts of spare capacity.
The maximum contract period for the power purchase agreement would be 36 months.
“Given the short-term objectives of this tender, which is to mitigate against the prevailing constraints on the electricity system, any existing unutilised capacity should be available to be signed up and generated as soon as possible,” the RFP said.
Eskom has previously procured power from companies during times of crisis.
Economists have warned that the country’s economy is likely to contract more than 2% this year as result of the coronavirus restrictions, with services industries being particularly hard hit.