Eskom is paying for the sins of past executives: De Ruyter

Andisiwe Makinana Political correspondent
Outgoing Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter blamed many of its problems on 'my somewhat less than illustrious predecessors' when he appeared before Scopa on Tuesday. File photo.
Outgoing Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter blamed many of its problems on 'my somewhat less than illustrious predecessors' when he appeared before Scopa on Tuesday. File photo.
Image: Deon Raath

Eskom boss Andre de Ruyter has blamed previous government administrations and executives for the rolling blackouts, saying the power utility was paying for the sins of the past.

On the other hand, Eskom bosses say they are aiming to improve Eskom's energy availability factor (EAF) from the current 58% to 65% by the end of March 2024, and 70% by the end of March 2025.

Eskom's leadership was appearing before parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Tuesday, as the country endures months of the most crippling outages. 

The utility’s chair, Mpho Makwana, said the target was to recover 1,862MW in 2023 and 6,000MW in the next 24 months with an intensified effort at the top six power stations.

“It is in this context that we are here this morning, a context in which we feel we are making breakthroughs,” he said.

De Ruyter said while they appreciate the extreme frustration caused to many South Africans by load-shedding, the damage to the economy and the impatience with finding urgent solutions, it was fair to point out that the current situation was not a new development.

He traced it back to 1998 when an energy white paper recorded that Eskom was asking for new capacity to be added urgently.

“In its wisdom, government at the time disagreed and said it had other priorities and that the money required to add new capacity should be allocated to other needs.

“We then had no option but to create virtual capacity — by deferring maintenance, postponing midlife refurbishments and by running our plants harder than the international norm would indicate.”

De Ruyter said there was a deliberate decision to neglect maintenance to create capacity, to prevent load-shedding.

In 2010, for instance, during the Soccer World Cup Eskom managed to keep the lights on by deferring maintenance and by running the plants harder than it was technically responsible to do, he said.

“So a political decision was made, and it was executed, but deferring maintenance is like borrowing from the future. You take a loan, and eventually when the maintenance falls due, the interest rate that you pay is extortionate.

“It’s like deferring the servicing of your car. Instead of regularly servicing it, you run it until it breaks, and then the cost of repairing that car is significantly higher than the accumulated cost of services that you would have paid.

“So this is the situation we are in today; we are paying for the sins of the past.”

De Ruyter, serving notice after his resignation last month, also slated former Eskom bosses for refusing to sign agreements with independent power producers (IPPs).

“In 2014, my somewhat less than illustrious predecessors refused to sign purchase agreements with IPPs on the grounds that this would not be in the interest of Eskom.”

He said calculations done by energy experts have indicated that as much as 95% of load-shedding today could have been avoided if those contracts had been signed.

“These are hypothetical arguments, and some other experts with other agendas differ from those calculations. but suffice to say that if we had additional capacity today, load-shedding would definitely have been less. So those decisions were wrong.”

Eskom is hoping to add 1,862MW to the grid by end-March this year, which is more or less equivalent to two stages of load-shedding. It further intends to add 6,000MW in the next 24 months.

De Ruyter said it was difficult to say when exactly load-shedding would end but could say “the risk of load-shedding will diminish in the next 18 months”.

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