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Eskom accused of colluding with municipality to block solar power plants

Eskom accused of colluding with municipality to block solar power plants

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has accused Eskom and Mafube municipality of colluding to block Frankfort from using its own solar power plant to reduce the impact of load-shedding on the town.

“Rural Maintenance has been subjected to a long and deliberately drawn-out process,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Collusion between Mafube and Eskom continues to deny Rural Maintenance and Frankfort’s residents the authority to generate their own electricity, manage the town’s load-shedding schedule, and ultimately help solve South Africa’s electricity crisis.

The Mafube municipality has been using private power distributor Rural Maintenance to provide residents in Frankfort with electricity for more than a decade.

As part of a 25-year contract, Rural Maintenance buys electricity from four solar farms in the area that can provide up to 3.7MW of generating capacity, more than the town consumes.

It clashed with Eskom earlier this year over implementing a load-shedding reduction scheme Rural Maintenance calls “voiding”.

Eskom argues that Rural Maintenance can’t simply implement whatever level of load-shedding it feels like and must adhere to the NRS 048-9 Code of Practice.

Rural Maintenance has said that it provided Eskom with data proving that it reduced Frankfort’s load on the national grid through “voiding”.

The matter came to a head in the Johannesburg High Court in May.

Mafube failed to show up for Rural Maintenance with an affidavit confirming it had authorised the private power distributor to bring the application against Eskom.

As a result, the judge dismissed the case. Rural Maintenance said losing the case forced it to switch off parts of its solar farms.

“By using their licensee privileges and transmission monopolies, Mafube and Eskom have locked Frankfort into Eskom’s load-shedding vice grip and frustrated any attempts by organised communities to generate electricity, wheel it back into the grid, and ease the effects of load shedding on residents,” Steenhuisen stated.

However, Eskom previously told MyBroadband that Rural Maintenance lied about needing to dump its excess solar power.

“Assuming their dumping claim is also true, we met with Rural Maintenance twice in May and presented them with our standard offer,” Eskom said.

“This entails that we wish to buy any excess electricity generated by their plant.”

Rural Maintenance CEO Chris Bosch disputed this, saying Eskom had told them it was just starting to investigate the possibility of buying electricity from the company.

“We hope that this will be done before the end of the year. But at least there have been positive developments on that front,” said Bosch.

>> Cape Town vs Frankfort load-shedding reduction

According to Eskom, the problem is that Rural Maintenance doesn’t have enough capacity to cover Frankfort’s demand.

“Simply put, if their generation was enough for their demand, Frankfort would be off-grid and thus would not be affected by any load-shedding,” Eskom stated.

“Even during daytime hours when the plant is running at optimal operation, a portion of the town’s electricity requirements are still supplied by Eskom.”

However, this raises the question of why the City of Cape Town can reduce its load-shedding by one stage without being able to cover the whole metro’s demand.

Eskom explained this was because the Steenbras Hydro Pumped Storage facility does not factor into Cape Town’s regular load profile.

“Where a municipality or metropolitan municipality has embedded generation, and such generation is not already included in the normal load profile of the municipality, such generation may be used to reduce the load reduction required under emergencies,” Eskom explained.

“In the case of Frankfort, the generation is already included as part of the normal load profile, and as such, the generation cannot be offset against load-shedding.”

Rural Maintenance has, understandably, taken issue with this and with Eskom’s method for measuring the normal load profile.

“Rural has submitted actual measured figures indicating that when voiding is in operation, the load on the Eskom system is actually reduced,” it explained in notes from a meeting with Eskom on 5 May 2023.

Eskom reportedly told Rural Maintenance that this was immaterial, as it was only concerned with the instantaneous load when it sees a deterioration in generation capacity.

“At that time, they want everyone to reduce load regardless of the fact that this will result in unfair treatment to those communities that have made a plan to reduce their impact on Eskom,” Rural Maintenance said.

“In other words, instead of raising the load-shedding stage, those communities who have already assisted themselves and Eskom, are expected to share an even heavier load-shedding burden.”

Rural Maintenance said this meant any measures municipalities or communities took to protect themselves from load-shedding were wholly discounted.

“This means that such proactive municipalities or communities are knowingly discriminated against under the guise of ‘all load needing to be shed has to be done on an equitable basis instantaneously as required’,” Rural Maintenance said.

Steenhuisen said Frankfort is now ground zero for energy independence in South Africa.

The party will call on electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa to urgently intervene in the matter — “as per his mandate to provide for private sector participation in South Africa’s new electricity generation capacity.”

Eskom had previously granted a request by Rural Maintenance to generate and wheel electricity into the grid.

However, Steenhuisen said this must be with the concurrence of the Mafube Local Municipality as the holder of the licence or Electricity Supply Agreement.

“It is now alleged that Mafube is stalling and trying to cancel the agreement initially signed,” he said.

“Instead of partnering with Rural Maintenance to protect Frankfort’s residents from the debilitating effects of Eskom’s load-shedding, Mafube has chosen to sit back and watch a major investment to end load-shedding go to waste.”

Jan Vermeulen 8 August 2023

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