So everyone on this blog (and by everyone, I mean Sharon) seems to be very ansy about the whole load shedding situation. As a previous employee, I get the honour of explaining, and not defending them. But it’s a long and complicated reason, so here goes.
Back in the early days of apartheid, the government created infrastructure that would support a white society. This included providing insanely cheap coal to government owned power stations. This meant we generated the 2nd cheapest electricity in the world. Consequently businesses paid low prices for electricity and this fueled the economy. Also they provided over enough electricity for white society. In fact we had so much electricity we ‘mothballed’ some of the stations to be returned to service at a later date. After the breakdown of apartheid, the new government reckoned the same thing: drive the growth of the economy using cheap electricity. However, they also committed to providing electricity to people who didnt have it before. Over 10 years they increased the percentage of the population that had access from around 20% to about 65%. They realised that they would be running out of electricity soon.
But like most governments they planned to privatise the electricity network, they didn’t want to commit to large capital injections. And by large capital, I mean that the South African government didn’t want to spend the 200 – 300 billion rand needed to build new infrastructure. So they waited… for another company to come in and offer to build a station. The only problem with this is that existing power stations were being fueled by really cheap government owned coal mines. No company was going to come in and be competitive in the energy sector and still make a profit. A few years afterwards (around 1999), Eskom and government realised that no one was going to step in and solve their energy woes and began an emergency plan to build capacity. It was a decent plan, looking at installing gas turbines in the short term and building nuclear capacity (PBMR and traditional like Koeberg) in the long term. The plan would have worked if NOTHING went wrong i.e. there wasn’t any spanners (bolts) in the works.
The load shedding started after the whole Koeberg incident and since then they’ve been plagued by countless problems: ‘mothball’ stations being returned to service but constantly tripping, overloading the powerlines coming down South from Gauteng. But like I told Faranaaz when I met her in 2002, Eskom knew that this was coming and that the electricity supply network was on a knife edge. We should have more electricity, situations like this should have been anticipated, we should not be facing load shedding and this should definitely not be the kind of thing that would affect the South African economy. But it is, and the reason isn’t as black and white as some may think. The blame should be shared equally between the government AND Eskom, and unfortunately they’re the only two elements that can fix this mess. However, to ask for someone to be accountable would be a stretch too far.