Pasting Eskom’s patches with pasta – Italy to help out

CAPE TOWN — The question Eskom’s seemingly transparent political bosses aren’t answering is why and how the Medupi and Kusile power plants were so “badly designed and badly constructed.” That actual quote came from Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan in parliament on Tuesday. He stoically observed that this “neatly illustrates where developmental state institutions can go wrong.” Not how, or why, which I’m certain most discerning voters want to know. Energy experts, unburdened by political constraints, tell us a lack of supervision, patronage networks or State Capture, and their attendant corruption and poor management have led to Eskom’s over-staffing and maintenance neglect. There’s the ball we need to keep our eye on as six of our main generation plants failed on the very day Gordhan appeared so candid. The Medupi and Kusile plants are three years behind schedule at a price tag of R292.5bn – double the original costing, with several more years before completion. Now we’re pasting the patches with pasta, calling in Italy’s biggest power utility to tell us where we went wrong. Hopefully this will lessen electricity outages in years to come, literally mitigating our powerlessness and the chances that our collective revenge will “best be served cold”. – Chris Bateman

By Paul Vecchiatto

(Bloomberg) – Two new coal-fired power plants being built in South Africa, which will be the continent’s largest once completed, are “badly designed and badly constructed,” Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan said as the country reels under a third day of rolling blackouts.

State-owned power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. “encapsulates the challenge of where developmental state institutions can go wrong,” Gordhan told lawmakers in Cape Town Tuesday. The utility cut electricity supplies to prevent total collapse of the grid as unscheduled maintenance reduced output.

The Medupi and Kusile plants, which were supposed to add almost 9,600 megawatts to the grid and be fully operational in 2015, are still years away from completion. Their projected costs have more than doubled to R292.5bn ($21.2bn).

The return to blackouts compounds worries about Eskom’s precarious position and the threat it poses to the economy. It’s also an embarrassment for the ruling African National Congress just three months ahead of national elections.

Gordhan and Eskom Chairman Jabu Mabuza have approached Enel SpA, Italy’s biggest power utility, to provide technical help to assess the problems, and the company will send engineers to South Africa soon, the minister said in prepared comments sent by email.

Units belonging to at least six power plants including the two new facilities and Arnot, Kriel, Duvha, Matla and Grootvlei weren’t in service today, with Eskom having 27,305 megawatts of capacity available to meet peak demand of 30,033 megawatts, Gordhan said.

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