Have you noticed that there has been hardly any load shedding since the State of the Nation address? I will share my thoughts around this.
Before I start, let me clarify that the views expressed here are held by my husband Cliff and myself. Through conversation and debate in marriage, we forget who had which individual thought as we grow more and more ‘of one mind’.
Remember back in 2008, we heard the ugly term “load shedding” for the first time. It was January (low electricity demand summer). Out of the blue Eskom suddenly had a crisis supposedly due to wet coal. A rather unlikely reason given that in Eskom’s preceding 85 year history, wet coal and how to deal with it was most certainly not a new problem. Through load shedding Eskom brought industry, and South Africa’s reputation to their knees. They successfully created a panic environment and people do not think very clearly when they are all aflutter.
After several weeks of morale-destroying load-shedding, at least 2 electricity sub-stations were severely damaged at a cost of several hundred million Rand due to the stress placed on them by the switching on and off at regular intervals of very high currents – something for which substations are not designed. Almost immediately after these 2 events, load shedding ended as abruptly as it started.
Prior to the implementation of this load-shedding cycle, Eskom had requested that NERSA make a rule-change in electricity price determination related primarily to primary energy costs (i.e. coal). This was not granted, however, NERSA had granted an average tariff increase of 14.2% in December 2007. This was not good enough for Eskom, and load-shedding was seemingly used as a preemptive strike in their request for a 60% tariff increase in March 2008 shortly after the end of load-shedding. This increase was requested supposedly because of the increased cost of primary energy and for “accelerated demand side management”. Part of the increase was granted and in June 2008, it was announced that electricity tariffs would increase by 27.5%, with more hefty tariff increases over the next few years. Eskom had finally gotten (at least partly) what they wanted.
Seven years passed, during that time, no big changes to infrastructure happened. No new power stations came online. Yet national growth in most sectors continued. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? A crisis went away while fundamentally nothing changed, other than Eskom getting the money which they wanted.
At the end of 2014 suddenly Eskom started playing flip the switch again. This time during periods of very low demand, i.e. of weekends, supposedly to build up reserves of diesel and water (in pumped-storage facilities). However, switching off of power during these times, would also place a far lower strain on electricity substations. My first thought was “That’s funny, they’re not asking for money”. A like-minded friend Rob suggested that load shedding was back so that we would endorse Jacob Zuma’s recent power deal with Russia, which many were feeling a bit iffy about (remember Chernobyl).
Well it didn’t take long and Eskom whipped out the begging bowl from the folds of their cloak of darkness. Ah so they were after money again. The profound song line “Hello darkness my old friend” does not resonate with many. Once again mass hysteria took hold. The power only has to be off for five minutes and you can feel the alarm ripple through suburbs as generators are fired up, shattering the sounds of silence.
Then on 12 February 2015 came the shambolic state of the nation address by our president. Amidst the political waffle he slipped in that Eskom are getting a R23 billion bail out. Well that was pretty easy for Eskom, we dance so well to their tune (by we I exclude myself).
You don’t need a crystal ball to show the future. Already since the speech load shedding has decreased dramatically. Over the next few weeks load shedding will come to an end. Generators will collect dust and we will merrily carry on with the business of living in South Africa. When that happens, remember that Eskom told us that the load shedding crisis would go on for about 3 years.
My friend Rob is a more creative conspiracy theorist than us. He suggests that government and Eskom choreographed this merry dance together. He strongly suspects that when the R23 billion is liberated from state coffers a good chunk will end up in swiss bank accounts, in an elaborate money laundering scheme. His argument is not a giant leap of imagination.
Update – 28/6/15, Load shedding has been a reality again lately, now look at this article on Fin24 ‘Pay up or go Dark’