Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Ilustration: SUPPLIED
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter. Ilustration: SUPPLIED

André de Ruyter commands respect. He took on the CEO role at Eskom in full knowledge of the challenges; his stressed predecessor was once carted off in an ambulance. De Ruyter is literally SA’s last defence against chaos.

His comments last week were guardedly positive. He has an interesting plan. Saying yes to additional power from independent producers isn’t just bowing to the inevitable. It shows he understands that the remaining value within Eskom does not lie in its clapped out, elderly power stations or in the badly built and designed new ones, but in Eskom’s existing transmission infrastructure. It can be used to source electricity cost effectively from a number of sources, just like the UK’s profitable National Grid company, and directed  as required.  

The need to reduce Eskom’s debt by an effective R300bn will be slightly more difficult. If the government cannot raise R14bn to resuscitate SAA, how will it find R300bn to prop up this coal-consuming dinosaur? Asking the increasingly alarmed signatories to the Paris Agreement to pay for our coal-fired power stations to be closed down must be an option. Carbon-based electricity could then be progressively replaced by renewables supplied from private producers at minimal capital cost to Eskom.

De Ruyter must navigate the rocky shoals of reducing headcount, improving efficiency and cutting coal-supply costs. Accusations of corruption mean he is having a salutary effect. As commentator Chris Yelland has noted, Eskom has been milked for years. Changing such a toxic culture will be no easy task. Just wait until Mpumalanga’s coal trucking mafia realise their business is finished. In my time it was axiomatic, if a power station depended on trucked coal it was closed as uneconomic to run.

James Cunningham,Camps Bay

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