Carol Paton Writer at Large
Pravin Gordhan. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Pravin Gordhan. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan told parliament’s public enterprises committee on Wednesday that he intends to hold responsible those who contributed to the design flaws of Eskom’s mega-power stations Medupi and Kusile.

The coal-fired power stations were intended to alleviate SA’s tight electricity supply system but cost and time overruns, as well as design and technical problems, have meant that only four of 12 units have been completed, which operate at about 40% to 50% efficiency.

Gordhan said that he had been told by Eskom that the design of Medupi had been changed mid-stream resulting in design and technical flaws that impeded its operation.

Eskom recently informed the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) of a raft of design and technical flaws with the boilers, including the cooling, ash collection and air-capture systems. The flaws have resulted in frequent tripping and breakdowns, and the need for excessive maintenance.

“It is crucial that we understand what happened at Medupi. There are some people who project themselves as angels but we need to put together a picture of who was responsible,” he said, adding that litigation “would certainly follow” once what happened had been established .

The acting director-general of public enterprises Thuto Shomang said that, so far, R300bn had been spent on Medupi and Kusile and the department expects that “many more billions will still be spent”.

Gordhan undertook to provide the committee with a report by mid-March.

The average age of the remainder of Eskom’s fleet of 18 power stations is 37 years. Neglected maintenance has led to serial plant breakdowns. Load-shedding, which is implemented to stabilise the grid when demand exceeds supply, began on Sunday and is expected to last for at least the rest of the week.

Gordhan said the government has asked Italian utility Enel to provide three senior coal-power engineers to help Eskom understand the reason behind the serial breakdowns.

Gordhan said he had no evidence to support sabotage at the plants but indicated that generating units could be brought down fairly easily. For instance, of the seven units that tripped on Monday, one had been brought down by the use of a cellphone inside the station, which is prohibited.

Another, he said, tripped after fine coal dust got into the boiler then had spread to other units.