Is Eskom feeling ANC heat to keep the lights on ahead of May polls?

21 Apr 2024 in News

South Africans have become accustomed to the ANC’s manipulation tactics over the past 30 years. How many times have we heard that load-shedding will come to an end? In May 2023, the ANC’s Fikile Mbalula said that “blackouts will be over by the end of 2023″ — with no evidence to support the claim whatsoever. Towards the end of 2023, minister of electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa made the now infamous claim that “we are turning the corner” on load-shedding. Not to be outdone, President Cyril Ramaphosa added his own false promise that “the end of load-shedding is finally within reach”.

We have heard it all before.

By Eskom’s own admission, its financial statements for the 2023/24 financial year — which ended on March 31 2024 — are expected to show it exceeded its diesel budget for its open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) by a substantial margin. While Eskom is yet to table its budget for the 2024/25 financial year, available evidence from its supply and demand updates shows the burning of diesel has remained elevated since March 31 2024.

The continued use of OCGTs to augment power supply has raised credible concerns Eskom may be creating an illusion of improved electricity supply — with load-shedding having been suspended for the past 23 days by Eskom burning copious quantities of diesel.

Everyone knows that OCGTs, which form part of Eskom’s peaking power plants, are only meant to be used during peak periods, or when the system is constrained. However, Eskom’s supply and demand updates — provided for the days it has not implemented load-shedding — reveal it continues to rely on OCGTs to plug power supply deficits. Meanwhile, the overall performance of the country’s coal-fired power plants has hardly improved since 2023.

Though it has rightly been pointed out that widespread solar energy adoption by households and the coming online of pipeline renewable energy projects have contributed to less load-shedding, it does not negate the reality that Eskom still cannot ensure a stable power supply without the use of OCGTs.

In an election year, this creates the perception Eskom may be manipulating the power supply ecosystem to keep the lights on at all costs until May 29.

If that is not the case, why has Eskom not finalised its budget for the 2024/25 financial year despite concluding its current financial year on March 31 2024?

Is it because they do not want the public to see how much they have budgeted for diesel, and how quickly they are burning it up in their quest to keep the lights on until May 29?

It would be the scandal of this election if Eskom announced the return of load-shedding after the final vote — proving the ANC have attempted to manipulate us again. After all, load-shedding returned with a vengeance the day after the 2021 election.

This is not to say load-shedding should be kept in place indefinitely. Far from it. Load-shedding has been devastating to the economy and has severely limited its ability to create jobs for the millions of unemployed South Africans sitting at home.

What is of concern is the burning of diesel in OCGTs to create a fantasy, ahead of an election, that Eskom has turned the corner on load-shedding, to influence the outcome of the poll. Decisions on whether to implement load-shedding should be guided by sound technical considerations and system performance.

Independent energy analysts have already warned that load-shedding will be back before we know it, as Eskom has still not addressed the long-term structural challenges relating to power generation. And they are right. Eskom’s energy availability factor is similar to what it was this time in 2023. This means that, in real terms, the amount of power produced by the country’s power plants has hardly improved — despite the return to service of the three Kusile power station units.

With its middling performance, one cannot help but wonder if external pressure has been brought to bear on Eskom to keep the lights on by any means necessary to shore up ANC support.

It is quite obvious the ANC is prepared to go to extreme lengths to exert pressure on Eskom for political purposes, regardless of the potentially negative consequences for grid stability

Last year, the ANC caucus in parliament allegedly summoned Eskom executives to it over crippling power blackouts. In the meeting, the executives were accused of sabotaging the ANC ahead of the 2024 elections owing to their failure to address the power cuts. Notwithstanding the obvious blurring of the line between party and state, it is quite obvious the ANC is prepared to go to extreme lengths to exert pressure on Eskom for political purposes, regardless of the potentially negative consequences for grid stability.

Jacob Zuma’s cronies pushed power stations to their absolute limits by deferring critical plant maintenance, all because he wanted to create the façade that load-shedding was under control. The consequences of that ill-advised decision are being felt to this day, with power stations constantly breaking down.

Voters need to be wary of the ANC’s long-term efforts to manipulate us into thinking things are getting better ahead of an election. We have seen this movie play out before. We must not be hoodwinked again.

Instead, we can look to the DA-led Western Cape for an example of real progress and real solutions that will lead South Africa out of its energy crisis. South Africans must use their opportunity on May 29 to vote out the manipulators and replace them with a government serious about putting energy back into our economy, homes and businesses.