Eskom to Take 9 Power Units Down for Maintenance as Winter Looms

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the state-owned company that generates about 95 percent of South Africa’s power, said it will do maintenance on nine units as it expects an “extremely cold” winter season.

The company will take 2,000 megawatts of generation capacity out of production as it can’t delay maintenance on these aging units, Chief Executive Officer Brian Dames told reporters in Johannesburg today. The power system will be tight in the southern African nation’s winter, which runs from about May to August, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said.

“This winter will be different,” Dames said. “We will do outage work on nine units between April and August.”

Eskom is spending about 500 billion rand ($54.1 billion) revamping old plants and building new ones to avoid a repeat of the January 2008 blackouts that halted mines owned by companies including Anglo American Plc for five days and paralyzed factories. Shortages are at similar levels now to five years ago, threatening gold and platinum output and the nation’s 2013 growth forecast of 2.7 percent on concern that there will be insufficient power in the approaching winter season.

Gigaba said April 11 the “country can’t afford any delays” to the December 2013 deadline for the first generation unit being switched on at the 91 billion-rand Medupi power station, which will generate 4,800 megawatts of electricity once completed. South Africa, which relies on coal for about 80 percent of its generation, is building the world’s third- and fourth-largest power stations fired by the fuel. One megawatt is enough to power 500 to 1,000 homes.

The country’s electricity supply has been constrained by unreliable power imports from Mozambique, labor strikes at coal suppliers and a faulty unit at Africa’s only nuclear power station. South Africa imports electricity from Mozambique’s Cahora Bassa hydro-electric power station and supply was lost yesterday, Dames said.

A more-than two-week strike at some of Exxaro Resources Ltd. operations earlier this year led to unplanned outages of about 1,000 megawatts, he said.