power outages set to return

NEW CHAIR: Duma Nkosi. 03/03/09. Pic. Antonio Muchave. © Sowetan.
NEW CHAIR: Duma Nkosi. 03/03/09. Pic. Antonio Muchave. © Sowetan.

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

The dreaded electricity blackouts may be back this winter. And there are several reasons for this.

That's the word from Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica. Yesterday she said delays in the restructuring of electricity distribution and excessive consumption of energy could once again plunge South Africa into darkness.

"The country cannot afford any delays to this important transformation process. The delay on electricity distribution restructuring has been too costly to the country and the economy," said Sonjica in Johannesburg yesterday.

She also announced the appointment of former Ekurhuleni mayor Duma Nkosi as chairman of Electricity Distribution Industry Holdings.

South Africa missed the target to centralise the distribution of electricity through the state-owned EDI Holdings last year. The deadline has since been extended by another three years.

Sonjica said the delays and continued fragmentation, poor investment in infrastructure, loss of skills and the unequal treatment of customers "cost the country no less than R2billion per year".

"The greatest concern for me is the backlog in infrastructure investment which stands at about R27billion," said Sonjica.

She warned that these factors and excessive energy use could contribute to more blackouts in the future.

South Africa was severely affected by load-shedding last year - a system of scheduled electricity blackouts - to minimise the use of energy.

This was caused by a lack of electricity supply to meet the demand.

EDI Holdings spokesman Mbulelo Musi said the country was struggling with old infrastructure and a duplication of service providers in some areas.

He said these often resulted in vast differences in the prices that consumers paid for electricity.

Musi said this could be solved by restructuring the current system through the introduction of six regional energy distributors (REDs) to take over the distribution of electricity.

This would mean combining current distribution services into the REDs.

Musi said this would result in affordable and reliable electricity supply for all South Africans.

Sonjica said the department aims to ensure "universal access to electricity" in three years. She said 80 percent of the population had access to electricity.