THE only good thing about the new round of rolling blackouts is that it has made the public aware of the extent of the Eskom calamity, says the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“For the last few years it has been the mines and industry that have been forced to cut their power usage so that the lights could be kept on for the rest of us,” said Mr Peter Haylett, chairman of the Chamber’s Industrial Focus portfolio committee. “This concealed the true extent of the problem from the public.”
Eskom’s failure to supply enough power had been like a brake on industry.
“We’ve heard the wet coal story before and it turned out that the real problem was that Eskom’s stockpile of coal had been allowed to run down to just a few days. The rain was just the last straw.”
After the rolling black-outs of 2007/2008, Eskom undertook to build up its stockpile so that it had reserves to last more than a month, enough to see it through any rainy season.”
He said that managing coal supplies was basic to the industry and failure to do so reflected on Eskom management. “It rains every summer on the Highveld,” Mr Haylett said. “It is a normal operational problem and one that is dealt with by simple planning. This is not rocket science.”
The basic problem was that Eskom was a huge monopoly protected from competition. “We need to get the municipalities back into the business of generating electrity and we need to open the way for independent power producers.
“We have reached a stage where we have to think of alternatives to Eskom. Many businesses have already turned to solar power to meet some of their needs and we can expect this trend to accelerate. We need independent power producers who can sell electricity to an independently run national grid. The legislation to make this possible has already been prepared and approved in principle by all parties in Parliament but it keeps vanishing.
“The Independent Services and Marketing Operations Bill (ISMO) must be revived and implemented without delay. This is now a national emergency,” Mr Haylett said.
Despite its concern for Eskom’s sustainability, the Cape Chamber has been impressed with the level of communication from Eskom in the Western Cape, which had been in contact with the Chamber several times during the day.