October 17, 2019 / 6:51 AM / 2 months ago

South Africa endures second day of power cuts as Eskom generators still out

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa was hit by power cuts for a second day on Thursday as state utility Eskom said a number of generating units were still out of service and some would not be back up and running for a few days.

FILE PHOTO: A store with a candle burning in the window is lit by the brake lights of a parked car during load shedding in Embo, South Africa, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo

On Wednesday Eskom was forced to impose first power cuts for the first time in around seven months, highlighting the challenge facing President Cyril Ramaphosa in rescuing the state company, which has been beset by financial and technical problems, and putting further pressure on the economy.

Eskom said it would cut 2,000 megawatts (MW) of power from 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) until 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Thursday on a rotational basis across the country.

“Contingency measures have been put in place to manually feed coal to Medupi (power plant) whilst we look into a permanent solution to the coal conveyor belt failure at the station,” Eskom said.

“We have started receiving additional diesel supplies from the major oil service providers and as such we are comfortable that we can build the necessary diesel and water reserves to acceptable levels over the weekend.”

Late on Wednesday Eskom said some generating units have already returned to service and it expects more units to return to service over the next few days.

South Africa's rand ZAR=D3 currency fell as much as 1% against the dollar on Wednesday after Eskom announced the cuts.

The power cuts also affected supplies to Zimbabwe, where Eskom exports up to 400 MW daily, the country’s electricity utility ZESA Holdings said in a notice on Thursday.

Power cuts are a daily occurrence in Zimbabwe but Eskom’s supply problems were compounding the situation.

In South Africa, the resumption of power cuts pose another risk to the already weak economy. Eskom produces more than 90% of South Africa’s electricity but has been hobbled by technical faults at its fleet of mainly coal-fired power stations.

It is also grappling with a debt pile which stood at around 440 billion rand ($31 billion) as of March.

Ramaphosa has pledged 59 billion rand of support for Eskom over the next two years, on top of 230 billion rand in bailouts spread over the next 10 years. Officials say its operational losses mean Eskom will also have to take other measures to make it financially sustainable.

Natasha Mazzone, South African shadow minister of public enterprises at official opposition Democratic Alliance, on Thursday said the government’s “mismanagement” of Eskom was to blame for the power cuts.

South Africa on Thursday approved the promulgation of its long-delayed plan for electricity generation until 2030, a cabinet statement said ahead it being publicly gazetted.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP 2019) will replace a previous blueprint not updated for almost a decade, and deals with electricity generation and energy mix South Africa will rely on in the immediate future.

“The plan proposes nine interventions to ensure the country responds to the energy needs for the next decade,” said cabinet without elaborating.

The interventions consider energy demand and supply as well as international obligations for South Africa to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, cabinet added. The government will disclose more details at a media briefing on Friday.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg, Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare; editing by Jason Neely and Susan Fenton

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