Eskom's Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga, December 18 2018. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMBERG
Eskom's Kusile coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga, December 18 2018. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMBERG

Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said on Monday that coal-handling facilities at Medupi power station would be modified to avoid future breakdowns that have contributed towards load-shedding.

Medupi and Kusile are the country’s two new flagship coal-fired power stations. It was a “conveyor belt failure” at Medupi‚ on top of other plants being down‚ that thrust SA back into Stage 2 load-shedding at the weekend.

Asked why the new power plant was not performing up to scratch‚ having suffered three conveyor belt breakdowns in a matter of months‚ Oberholzer told Kieno Kammies on CapeTalk radio: “I will not say it has been shoddy work. This is the way the design has been done and this is the way it has been implemented.

Jan Oberholzer. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Jan Oberholzer. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

“I have instructed our designers to redesign the coal handling to ensure redundancy. You must remember‚ what we have at Medupi‚ we have exactly the same at Kusile. So if we’re experiencing the problem now at Medupi‚ for whatever reason‚ the chance that we’re going to have it at Kusile is very likely.”

The two new power stations are supposed to ultimately supply more than 20% of the country’s electricity. Oberholzer said it was “critical that we fix it”.

He said Medupi’s unit three was supposed to be taken offline on Monday for 75 days for design modifications‚ but this would have to be delayed due to the system being constrained.

Touching on the thorny issue of R1.8bn allegedly being set aside by the power utility for “performance bonuses” up until 2022 — a claim made in court papers filed by the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa)‚ which is opposing a demand by Eskom for an additional R69bn from consumers — Oberholzer said the money was actually set aside for 13th cheques for staff.

“This is Nersa’s side of the story‚ definitely not Eskom’s. I can confirm that the past two years‚ no performance bonuses have been paid‚” he said.

While a bonus system was in place‚ the criteria had not been met.

“I spoke to the CFO this morning. That amount stated there [in Eskom’s financial statements] as a bonus is basically the 13th cheque which is part of your employment contract. So it’s definitely not performance bonuses‚” he said.

Eskom said it did not expect load-shedding on Monday, though the system was vulnerable.

“There is sufficient water at the pumped storage schemes and we have managed to conserve diesel at our open-cycle gas turbine generators‚ and continue to work to replenish the diesel levels. These emergency reserves will supplement the shortage of capacity‚ if required.

“However‚ we remind customers that as the system continues to be vulnerable and unpredictable‚ the possibility of load-shedding remains.”