South African Power System Strained as Silo Collapse Probed

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. said South Africa’s power supply remains strained as it investigates what caused a silo storing coal to collapse, forcing the state-owned utility to cut electricity to customers.

“The system is stable and we’re not expecting load-shedding today,” Andrew Etzinger, a spokesman for Johannesburg-based Eskom, said by phone today, referring to rolling blackouts. “The system is tight and constrained and we appeal to the public to use electricity sparingly.”

Eskom, which supplies almost all of the country’s power, restored about 1,200 megawatts of capacity yesterday at Majuba, its second-biggest plant. Coal deliveries to all of the facility’s six generation units were cut on Nov. 1 after a silo cracked and collapsed onto a conveyor, causing rolling blackouts across the country on Nov. 2.

Cash-strapped Eskom was in March forced to implement blackouts in the continent’s second-largest economy for the first time since 2008 as it struggles to meet demand with an aging fleet. Large industrial users including steelmaker ArcelorMittal’s local unit and BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest mining company, are required to reduce demand to avoid a total collapse of the grid.

Eskom has been monitoring vibrations at the Majuba silos since January, with the situation deteriorating since then, leading to the collapse, trade union Solidarity said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

Proof Sought

“We are aware of Solidarity’s accusations about structural issues at Majuba, and are asking that Solidarity bring us the proof so we can include that in our investigations,” Etzinger said. “We are investigating what caused the silo to collapse and whether that specific defect could occur in other silos, so that we can take action to avoid that.”

The probe will take “weeks rather than months to complete,” he said.

Large parts of Johannesburg were left without electricity today because of a fault at the Prospect substation, City Power, the utility that serves South Africa’s largest city, said on its Twitter account. “Most suburbs in the north and south of Johannesburg are off,” it said. “Technicians are working on the problem.”

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