Power Cuts Due This Week In South Africa With Colder Weather

South Africa’s state-owned utility warned of a “high probability” of power cuts through the weekend as a cold front increases demand, contradicting its previously optimistic outlook on outages.

The nationwide rolling outages, known locally as load shedding, could start on Thursday during peak evening demand from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and persist through the weekend, Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. said in a statement. The utility in May predicted that only three days of supply interruptions would be necessary in the winter months that span from June through August.

Eskom, a nearly century-old monopoly that generates most of the nation’s electricity, has become an economic liability. Its poorly maintained coal-fired fleet is unreliable and saddled with debt of 450 billion rand ($26.7 billion), the loss-making company relies on government bailouts just to make interest payments.

The coronavirus pandemic provided the utility with a brief respite from keeping up with regular consumption as lockdown measures shuttered many businesses and offered it a chance to undertake much-needed repairs. Eskom cut its forecast from 31 days of power cuts during winter to just three.

When the utility presented an optimistic outlook, Chief Operating Officer Jan Oberholzer also said that its program to reduce unplanned plant breakdowns failed to meet targets.

While the cold front that’s forecast over the weekend is set to raise demand, more businesses reopening could add to that and increase the likelihood of deeper cuts, Eskom spokesman Sikonathi Mantshantsha said in an interview on CapeTalk radio. The company warned in a statement later Thursday that the electricity system was “under severe pressure,” and asked users to reduce consumption by switching off non-essential lights and appliances.

The company will rely on diesel-fueled turbines designed for peak use to stave off the cuts, which will increase costs the utility is trying to reduce, he said. A number of generation units have experienced unplanned breakdowns or have been delayed in returning to service, according to Eskom.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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