Eskom announces Kusile units are on track for early return to service
Energy CorrespondentAbout a year after a stacks collapse put three generation units at Kusile power station in Mpumalanga out of action, contributing to some of SA’s longest and deepest power cuts, Eskom has begun to return the units to service.
On Saturday, the state-owned utility said that the first of the units affected by the collapse of stacks in October 2022 was operating again.
"Kusile Power Station unit 3 is returned to service two months ahead of schedule, and will improve the available generation capacity by 800MW once loaded to full capacity. This marks a significant milestone in Eskom’s efforts to reduce and ultimately end load-shedding," Eskom said.
The other two units (units 1 and 2) are expected to return to service by mid-November, each adding 800MW of generation capacity to the grid. When all three units are running at full capacity, electricity generated will be sufficient to mitigate about two stages of load-shedding.
Kusile unit 5, damaged by fire a year ago while under construction, is expected to be commissioned by December. This will further alleviate pressure on the grid.
On Sunday, electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said that with the early return of the Kusile units Eskom was "beginning to turn a corner in getting additional (generation) capacity online".
"The Kusile units are going to be indispensable to in the short term help us reduce the intensity of load-shedding," he said.
Unit 3 was ready to be switched on almost a week ago, but Eskom had to wait for a positive decision on the Kusile atmospheric emission licence appeal from forestry, fisheries & the environment minister Barbara Creecy and the Nkangala District Municipality in Mpumalanga.
This was after civil society groups appealed in July against the postponement granted to Eskom by the national air quality officer on compliance time frames for minimum emission standards for new plants and the exemption granted by the minister from complying with air-quality regulations.
Units 1, 2 and 3 had to be taken offline almost a year ago after a flue gas desulphurisation duct, which carries emissions from unit 1 to a large chimney housing the ducts for units 1, 2 and 3, collapsed under the weight of ash build-up inside the pipe.
To bring the units back sooner, Eskom proposed implementing a temporary solution involving the use of temporary stacks without the use of the flue gas desulphurisation mechanism for 13 months.
While the temporary solution enabled Eskom to bring the units back 12 months sooner than possible had they pursued only a permanent solution, bypassing the flue gas desulphurisation mechanism will result in higher sulphur dioxide emissions during the 13-month period.
Ramokgopa said that while Eskom received four objections to the exemption it was granted, it could "through assistance from experts in the environmental space", respond to those objections. The objections were primarily about the wellbeing of the communities around Kusile that will be affected by the rise in sulphur dioxide pollution.
"We have made a commitment to (minister Creecy) that by December 2024 we will restore normality by bringing back the flue gas desulphurisation unit which will allow Kusile to operate within its licence parameters," Ramokgopa said.
Kusile power station near Emalahleni in Mpumalanga. Picture: DENENE ERASMUS