Underperforming Eskom power plants – when is Eskom rehiring engineers and technicians?

Please find attached a soundbite by Ghaleb Cachalia MP.

“Barely a week after President Ramaphosa announced his Energy Action Plan to fix the electricity crisis, the country is once again plunged into Stage 4 loadshedding. Eskom’s underperforming power plants threaten to throw Ramaphosa’s action plan off the rails from the onset” says DA Shadow Minister of Public Enterprises, Ghaleb Cachalia MP.

In announcing the immediate actions needed to restore system stability and increase generation capacity from Eskom’s installed generation fleet, Ramaphosa indicated that experienced former Eskom engineers and power station managers will be rehired to improve Eskom’s operational performance.

There is no indication from the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, the Presidency or the recently established National Energy Crisis Committee (NECOM) on when the engineering and technical expertise hiring programme will commence. The lack of urgency in capacitating power plants is astounding, precisely because the national electricity crisis appears to be getting worse with each passing day.

This follows an agreement with unions at Eskom which will increase the wage bill massively across the board to accommodate a bloated staff force, strangling key financial resources which should be instead redirected to the hiring of competent, qualified and experienced personnel.

Eskom’s poor plant performance is clearly a function of a depleted skilled workforce rather than a shortage of financial resources. Recently, Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, pointed out that Eskom had declined Treasury support for a maintenance budget claiming that their generation division already had R8 billion set aside for maintenance.

In addition, the Eskom public notice announcing stage 4 loadshedding attributes the loss of generation capacity to:

  • delays in returning generation units to service; and
  • unplanned breakdowns in generation units

These are issues that can be addressed by Eskom with a radical re-staffing at critical levels. It requires will, commitment, urgency and a dogged determination to see the process through to the desired end state.

Failure by Ramaphosa and Gordhan to approach the electricity crisis with the urgency that it deserves is precisely why the DA had called for a ring-fenced State of Disaster to be declared. After DA pressure finally forced the ANC government to take action on the crisis, they now seem to be dragging their feet in implementing the energy action plan.

While renewable energy may become the mainstay of South Africa’s energy source in the future, we cannot escape the fact that, in the short term, South Africa needs to secure the amount of power made available by Eskom’s fleet of power plants to meet the minimum demands by consumers. That will only happen when power plants are adequately staffed by experienced engineers and technicians with the technical know-how to restore system stability.

The key takeaway here is, concentrate on the bird in the hand while you attend to the two in the bush – and do it with the requisite urgency that you promised.