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    'Turning the corner' : Electricity minister strikes optimistic note after progress at Kusile

    October 2, 2023 - Nick Wilson



      -- Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa says the restoration of more units at Kusile power station would help mitigate load shedding. -- In the coming months, about 2 400MW in additional capacity will be provided by the return to service of three units at Kusile. -- Eskom also plans to start "firing" Unit 5 at Kusile in December. -- For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has struck an optimistic note about SA's battle against load shedding, saying the restoration of more units at Kusile power station in the next few months augured well for supply of additional energy capacity.

      Speaking at his regular "energy action plan" briefing on Sunday in Pretoria, Ramokgopa said the return of Kusile Unit 3 to service on Saturday two months ahead of schedule, showed South Africa was "starting to turn the corner". Three units at Kusile were impacted by the collapse of stacks at the power station a year ago.

      The impact of the restoration of Unit 3 was almost immediate, with it contributing to the suspension of load shedding - originally halted on Saturday until 16:00 on Sunday - being further extended to Monday at 16:00.

      Making the announcement of the extension of the suspension of load shedding shortly before Ramokgopa addressed the media, Eskom cited the return to service of Unit 3, along with sustained improved generation performance and lower than anticipated electricity demand as the main reasons.

      Ramokgopa, who indicated that Unit 3 was currently generating 550MW and would be ramped up to provide 800MW, said that two days of no load shedding - albeit over a weekend - were "small gains that accumulate over time".

      "And then you will see we will get out of this very, very difficult situation."

      He said the second of the Kusile units would return to service during the course of October, while the third unit would come on stream either late October or early November. This would give Eskom a maximum of 2 400MW in additional capacity.

      Improving energy picture

      The picture looked even better, Ramokgopa said, if Kusile Unit 5, which Eskom intended "firing " some time in December, was taken into account.

      While Unit 5 will only be brought back on stream gradually because of the "degree of testing taking it off at some periods", when it does return to service, it would bump up the generation to 3 200MW. He said one area he expected to see a significant improvement in over the next two to three months was unplanned capacity losses.

      Ramokgopa said the 2 400MW from the three units at Kusile formed part of the 15 522MW unplanned capacity loss factor currently being reported at Eskom.

      He said that part of the targets set was for Eskom to keep this below 14 000MW, something which the restoration of the three units would achieve at a stroke.

      "And I've not yet accounted for Unit 5 - like I said it will be on and off, but after a period of time you are going to get a consistent amount of megawatts from Unit 5 going into 2024."

      Balancing act

      News24 reported on Saturday that Kusile Unit 3's return to service was completed after Eskom received the green light on its Atmospheric Emission Licence from Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), and the Nkangala District Municipality. But it had been opposed by civil society groups who objected to the minister allowing Eskom to run Kusile units 1 to 3 without flue-gas desulphurization (FGD).

      The exemption by the ministry will apply until the end of March 2025 and allows Eskom to return units into operation using temporary stacks without (FGD) - while repairing the permanent stacks. Concerns centred on the health risks the sulphur could present to communities living around Kusile.

      READ|Kusile's Unit 3 back online after Eskom gets the nod to bypass pollution controls

      Responding to questions at the briefing, Ramokgopa said the government had to strike a balancing act between growing the economy to protect jobs and also safeguarding the health of South Africans. He likened it to "juggling" a number of balls in the air at the same time.

      "The decision to ask for an exemption was not an easy one. We have an obligation to ensure that we protect the health of people and the environment. That is why in the approval of that exemption, there are stringent requirements put in place."

      These requirements included constant monitoring of the amount of sulphur being put into the environment and whether that posed an immediate danger to the community.

      He said one option would have been to wait until the end of 2024 when the Eskom team got to grips with the issues at the FGD unit at Kusile to ensure the removal of sulphur.

      But the downside to that was the major cost to the economy the intensified levels of load shedding would result in not having those three units at Kusile operating again.

      Ramokgopa said it was about "attempting to ensure" a balance was struck between the obligations to the environment and the immediate needs of the economy, which must "protect jobs" and ensure SA is able to generate revenue for the fiscus to support the "comprehensive social wage that the South African government is providing".


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