Energy expert challenges reliability of Eskom's public information on load shedding

As Eskom battles to fulfil its southern African energy obligations – particularly at home – with a decrepit generation system, it is also in the middle of an info war on at least three fronts with a common theme: what is it hiding and why? Energy expert Ted Blom is challenging the integrity and reliability of the power utility's public information on load shedding. He told The Citizen he has informed the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) of his concerns about what he has described as "discrepancies in Eskom numbers". So serious are the technical and operational challenges...
As Eskom battles to fulfil its southern African energy obligations – particularly at home – with a decrepit generation system, it is also in the middle of an info war on at least three fronts with a common theme: what is it hiding and why?

Energy expert Ted Blom is challenging the integrity and reliability of the power utility's public information on load shedding. He told The Citizen he has informed the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) of his concerns about what he has described as "discrepancies in Eskom numbers".

So serious are the technical and operational challenges facing the state-owned enterprise (SOE), that Blom said recurring bouts of load shedding pointed to its inability to generate enough power to help the struggling economy.

"In one evening last week, Eskom shed 5 359MW of power. Instead of declaring the country to Level 6, they announced we were on Level 4 – going against the power utility's own definition," Blom said.

"On another evening, Eskom load shed 5 642MW, but also only declared that the country was at Level 4 load shedding."

Responding to Blom, Eskom spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha said the power utility operated in line with Nersa standards and policies.

"We have load shedding, reduction and curtailment. We are also able to call on industrial customers to reduce load by 20%, which we do not do to consumers," said Mantshantsha. However, Blom claimed Eskom had been inter-switching between the terms "load reduction" and "load shedding".

"Load reduction is a new term made up by [Eskom CEO] Andre de Ruyter, when he sheds power in townships. It is a bogus rationale that illegal connections are making it dangerous for people," said Blom.

"But he only load sheds there during peak times. For the rest of the day, the same illegal connections are to him are not dangerous."

On 3 April, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) filed an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) request with Eskom, asking for a list of specified power system performance information to be made available to the public. A Paia request should be complied with within 30 days. The information requested included hourly details on energy produced by each power station, details of availability, planned maintenance, unplanned breakdowns and emissions.

"Although this is a good start, the information now provided is still far from what is provided by Eskom's peers around the world," Outa energy advisor Chris Yelland said in a statement.

Some of the information requested by Outa includes power station emissions data.

"People affected by pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions have the right to this information, as it impacts directly on their health," said Outa energy portfolio manager Liz McDaid.

"We reserve the right to go to court if necessary. Outa believes good governance includes transparency."

Although R480 billion in debt, Eskom would rather spend a large sum of money on legal fees defending a Paia application in court from Daily Maverick's investigations unit, Scorpio, for "key information" about the ridiculously overpriced and overdue Medupi and Kusile power plants.

"The application comes amid fresh bouts of rolling blackouts, partly caused by large-scale corruption and mismanagement at these long-overdue megaprojects, Daily Maverick said in its newsletter yesterday.

"In an attempt to get to the bottom of some of the malfeasance, Eskom in 2018 appointed law firm Bowmans to conduct probes into allegations of large-scale corruption at Medupi and Kusile.

"Alarmingly, the investigations were stopped about a year later, but not before the law firm's investigators uncovered solid evidence of top-level corruption.

"Daily Maverick has been left with no choice but to drag the problem-ridden, state-owned enterprise to court.

"Eskom subsequently denied our application. It also upheld its decision after we lodged an internal appeal."

brians@citizen.co.za; additional reporting by Amanda Watson 

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