Eskom blocks private producer from cutting load shedding

 ·21 Apr 2023

Embattled power utility Eskom has stopped a small Free State municipality from successfully using solar energy to reduce load shedding.

The Johannesburg High Court this week ruled that Rural Maintenance Free State – a private company that had been managing the distribution of electricity to the Mafube Local Municipality – be barred from continuing its own load shedding schedules, as it would create a ‘precedent’ for other Eskom customers to seek similar relief.

Shepstone & Wylie, the legal firm representing Rural Maintenance, said: “Eskom argued that circumstances like Frankfort on a larger scale would prevent Eskom from fulfilling its statutory duty to manage the grid and could result in a national blackout with catastrophic consequences for the entire country.”

No documentary or expert evidence of this possibility was put forward by Eskom, the firm said.

Rural Maintenance has been managing power distribution in Frankfort, Mafube, for over a decade through a contract with the local municipality.

The private company purchases electricity from four local solar farms at a cheaper rate than Eskom and distributes it to the municipality.

The situation at Frankfort provided an ideal location for pilot projects to reduce load shedding efficiently. It was essentially used as a guinea pig for small towns taking matters into their own hands.

After consulting with Eskom, Rural Maintenance initiated five projects that generated more electricity than the town consumed, leading to no load shedding on certain days.

According to its CEO, Chris Bosch, thanks to the company’s efforts, people in the area know that if the weather is good from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon, they will not have to deal with load shedding.

Deirdre Venter and Sirhaan Che’Khan, legal experts from Sheptsone & Wylie said that Eskom first appeared in the Joburg High Court on 5 April 2023 to clarify its stance on Rural Maintenance Free State’s use of a privately owned PV solar farm to power essential water and sanitation infrastructure during load shedding, as well as provide relief to businesses and residents in the area.

Eskom had granted the company’s request for ‘self-load shedding’ in January of this year, subject to a three-month trial; however, despite data showing positive results, Eskom pushed back and demanded the use of its alternative energy cease with immediate effect.

Shepstone & Wylie said that the court ruling in favour of Eskom would have far-reaching implications, including discouraging private initiative and investment in alternative sources of electricity to counter the adverse effects of load shedding.

“Rural Maintenance argued that Eskom’s resistance to private initiatives to increase power supply adds insult to injury, considering Eskom’s inability to consistently supply the electricity needs of the country, resulting in load shedding,” said the law firm.

This town in South Africa is cutting its load shedding – and Eskom is not happy

As far back as November 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa has made several promises to deal with the power outages in the country during his State of the Nation Address – enabling measures to create more generation capacity to be added to the grid from independent power producers.

Eskom has failed to supply a stable electricity supply for as long as many South Africans can remember. At 05h00 this Friday (21 April), the power utility pushed to all-day stage 6 load shedding indefinitely as multiple units of its power stations broke down.

Experts have cautioned that South Africa may face the equivalent of stage 10 load shedding if there is no increase in electricity supply and a reduction in demand.

The newly appointed electricity minister, whose powers are unclear and faced major backlash over contributing to a bloated cabinet, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, assured the public that the grid would not collapse, as there is always 2,000MW in reserve.

Despite his reassurances, there is still a high risk of pushing beyond stage 6 load shedding in winter, leading to 16 hours of outages in 32-hour blocks for households and businesses.

Read: Stage 6 load shedding extended as units at four stations go down

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