Msunduzi is aware of the many challenges facing the city's electricity infrastructure and has formulated a plan to ensure the electricity crisis is dealt with properly.
Part of that plan includes settling its Eskom debt, sitting at just over R194 million, which resulted in December's extra load reduction, along with all other municipalities that owed Eskom.
In an exclusive interview with The Witness, Msunduzi Municipality's deputy mayor, Mxolisi Mkhize, who is also the chairperson of the infrastructure services portfolio, said load shedding has had a huge impact on the city's electricity infrastructure, but was minimal compared to other municipalities that also receive electricity from Eskom.
He said, due to the city's growth, Pietermaritzburg's infrastructure has become congested, but there are plans in place to limit longer outages and to deal with any future disasters that may affect the infrastructure, such as the Northdale power crisis of December 2021, when northern residents endured over two weeks without electricity after the Northdale substation exploded.
Mkhize said they were aware that during load shedding, several areas would not have their power restored on time.
Restoration of power after load shedding may be affected due to network failure that causes the remote access to not work. When that happens, we'd need to perform a manual restoration, which may take time.
He added damages to the infrastructure also causes delays.
Mkhize said when electricity goes on and off there is an increased chance of damage to household appliances and this was the same with their infrastructure.
He said when there's an electricity fault after a trip, the work required before they can restore power takes time.
You cannot bring back the entire current without doing pressure testing to check if it won't cause any problems and that's what causes a delay. What's done is always in the best interest of the residents.
He added that the effects of load shedding can cause damage to the infrastructure, which leads to outages.
He stressed the importance of unplugging appliances during load shedding not only to protect the appliances but also the municipal infrastructure that can be damaged when power is restored.
We always encourage customers to switch off their appliances because when a surge of power comes back, it can cause damage. It may not damage their household appliances but can damage electricity infrastructure, especially the underground cables.
High vacancy rate
Mkhize confirmed there was a shortage of staff in the electricity department which he said had an effect on responding to the crisis.
To address this, Msunduzi has budgeted R10 million to fill critical positions in this department to address the high vacancy rate.
These positions were advertised and we are currently in the shortlisting process. The electricity department was a sub-unit of infrastructure and we've now realised that the staff is insufficient since it's a standalone department. In the next financial year, we will also budget to fill more positions.
Selective load shedding
Mkhize said there were areas in the city that do not fall under Msunduzi's area of supply and the municipality was not responsible for their load shedding schedule.
Areas such as Imbali, Edendale and Vulindlela fall under Eskom's area of supply and the city does not have control over their load shedding schedule.
Meanwhile, there are households around Northdale that have not been undergoing load shedding, raising questions from those that do undergo load shedding.
Some residents have speculated that after the explosion at the Northdale primary substation, the municipality couldn't switch off the substation during load shedding in order to avoid more damage.
Mkhize has however refuted this claim, saying the infrastructure at Northdale substation was up to standard. He said this infrastructure was installed by Eskom after the explosion due to a memorandum of understanding.
Mkhize explained that the reason is the Darvill Treatment Plant, which gets power from the Northdale substation which cannot be switched off, as it is required to always be operational.
There's areas that are linked to the same line as Darvill that end up not getting load shedding. It's not like our infrastructure is incapable of switching off certain areas for load shedding.
Mkhize said other plans the municipality was working on to end electricity crises include the construction of Eastwood substation, which he said will be completed this year.
He said this substation will help stabilise the grid and ease pressure on other substations.
Meanwhile, DA caucus leader, Ross Strachan was of the opinion that as long as the current leadership was behind the wheel, the plans to solve the city's electricity issues would remain a pipe dream.
This plan of action, like other plans of action, have failed to take off because of the lack of prioritisation in terms of budgeting, planning and financial mismanagement/maladministration. This will always always compromise any progress. The mess that has created this collapse did not happen overnight; it happened over the last decade or so. Complete neglect of all our infrastructure, no maintenance, no upgrades, no prioritisation or willingness to execute basic mandates. This will take a long time to fix. I believe the deputy mayor with all due respect, is not being realistic.
Strachan added that the security around the city's infrastructure is permanently under siege, naming the rising cost of electricity and the inability to manage theft and loss, the extent of routine maintenance backlogs throughout the network and the inability to address the issues due to lack of capacity, as some of the factors that would compromise any progress.