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As a councillor dealing with power outages, I think electricity and load shedding is a big issue in the 1 November local government election.
There is a stark contrast between what’s being offered to voters in two metros.
The governing party in Johannesburg wants to take over from Eskom as supplier to Soweto. Yet City Power is not coping with Joburg’s existing network.
The latest spate of rolling blackouts exacerbated a dire situation where City Power depots were already overburdened. There are too few technicians chasing too many calls and not enough spares or cash to catch up, ever.
There are many paying customers who have not had power for more than a week.
Electricity supply in Soweto is synonymous with a decades-old, struggle-inspired culture of nonpayment, along with illegal connections and vandalism.
Indeed Soweto and other areas with similar problems are subjected to what Eskom calls “load reduction”.
Schindlers Attorneys put it thus: “Load reduction is used to reduce the increasing demand for electricity that is supplied to the public. This is achieved by cutting off the electricity of citizens who cannot afford to pay their monthly electricity bills.”
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Schindlers believe Eskom’s implementation of load reduction to nonpaying municipalities is unlawful and can be challenged in court.
But it remains part of Eskom’s method of trying to limit the effects of nonpayment.
Into this mess steps new Joburg mayor Mpho Moerane, who says City Power is in talks to take over Eskom’s Soweto infrastructure It’s a crazy idea.
Eskom wants R4 billion for the infrastructure. In addition there is at least R7.5 billion in unpaid customer accounts, despite repeated debt write-offs.
City Power does not have the capacity or the competence to take over additional infrastructure.
Theft of City Power cables and other equipment is rampant. City Power substations, large and small, are prone to vandalism and security breaches.
There is no way City Power could maintain and secure the additional facilities that supply Soweto. While there are customers in Soweto who pay, the culture of nonpayment has not been overcome.
Moerane has no magic wand to change that. He is presumably banking on yet another bailout/debt write-off using taxpayers’ money.
This unsustainable approach is the opposite of what’s happening in Cape Town. The governing party in SA’s best-run metro also aims to reduce dependence on Eskom.
But it will do so by making smart use of changes to the Electricity Regulation Act, that allow municipalities, working with the private sector, to buy substantial amounts of electricity from independent power producers (IPPs).
There is no reason why Joburg can’t make more use of IPPs. Indeed, the recent move to increase supply from the privately-owned Kelvin power station is welcome.
We need anything that will shield Joburg from load shedding, which is playing havoc with City Power’s creaky network. Every switch-on leads to trips and frazzled minisub stations.
But please don’t let our incompetents take over Soweto in its current state. Unless Joburg is to be renamed Dark City.