It could be worse: Eskom

Power utility Eskom says that it is not in crisis despite its financial and operational woes which has led to bouts of load shedding over the past two weekends.

In an interview on SAfm, Eskom spokesperson Andrew Etzinger said: “We have at the heart of Eskom, a system operator, who runs the power grid for the country, and they make sure that we do not go into a national blackout, which is far more, far more devastating than any load shedding we could ever possibly imagine.

“From that point of view, we are not in a crisis.”

He conceded that the company was in a “difficult situation” to manage with many technical problems.

“Are we on the brink of collapse? No. Are we in a tough time? Yes. Is there a way forward to get out of this? Yes,” Etzinger said. He said however, that it would take a few years before the company moved away from its unstable position.

Questioned on the leadership at Eskom, Etzinger said that the appointment of a new board – expected within the next few weeks – may lead to instability at the SOE.

Chris Yelland, an energy analyst and managing director at EE Publishers, said that he didn’t believe that South Africa has an energy crisis.

“South Africa is blessed and endowed with huge energy resources both from coal to nuclear to wind to solar, promising gas resources etc…no we don’t have an energy crisis. But we do have a serious Eskom management crisis.”

He went further and called it an energy management crisis, starting with cabinet, through to the regulator, through to the Department of Energy, Department of Public Enterprises, Eskom, and the municipal electricity distributors.

Yelland pointed to reports of deep divisions within the Eskom board, undermining the confidence of the employees, with board interference at an operational level. He also highlighted the financial woes within the power utility.

“We see environmental problems, we see operation problems, we see financial problems. So to underplay this and say there is no crisis, I think is disingenuous.”

Etzinger said that although a new board was expected and amid a newly appointed CEO, the company had a number of high ranking executives who have been with the group for between 20-30 years and who continue to lead the company competently, given the circumstances.

Etzinger said: “From my perspective, a crisis would be a national blackout.” He said that on a day of load shedding, the company was still meeting 95% of its electricity demand. He said that if that’s number were to drop to zero, “I would say that would be a crisis”.

He said that if employees abandoned their post, that would be a crisis, or if there was a breakdown in governance, that would be a crisis.

“It could be so much worse,” Etzinger said.

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It could be worse: Eskom