The explosive eNCA interview with André de Ruyter truly rammed home what most people, besides those with their noses in the looting trough, already knew: relying primarily on Eskom Generation to extricate the country from its deepening electricity crisis would be reckless. Eskom Generation is not only the hotbed of criminality described so vividly by the former CEO but is also the division where assets have been abused to the point where they are decommissioning themselves.
This abuse is mostly not the fault of the employees at these power stations, many of whom continue to work incredibly hard and at significant personal cost to keep the neglected machines operating. They should receive our full support and should not be scapegoated. The abuse is principally a consequence of a series of political, policy and governance decisions that have been made over more than two decades with calamitous consequences.
The decision, for instance, not to implement the 1998 policy that was meant to have opened the way for multiple generators. Had the policy been pursued, the risk of being over-reliant on a dominant supplier would have been mitigated. Eskom Generation, if it still existed, would be but one of many operators. The decision to proceed with two mega-coal projects following a multidecade hiatus in Eskom having built any power stations.
And then allowing for the contracting process to be contaminated by corrupt actors who moved to acquire key systems, such as boilers, that carried massive design defects. The decision to keep the lights on at all costs, when it was clear that doing so would deepen the risk to the existing fleet should Medupi and Kusile fail to enter timeously to provide supply-side relief – an incredibly likely scenario.
The decision to halt the procurement of renewable energy on the false pretext of an Eskom surplus, ostensibly manufactured to create space for a nuclear deal with the Russians. The decision to delay updating the Integrated Resource Plan, probably because even the very conservative technoeconomic assumptions used indicated that there was no need for either new coal or new nuclear. The decision to obstruct key market reforms and procurement programmes on the basis that such generation was only ‘supplementary’, and that loadshedding could be ended simply by restoring ‘idling’ coal power stations, and then replacing them with ‘baseload’ nuclear and gas.
Add into the mix negligent decisions not to extend sufficient security and law enforcement support to the power stations meant that the bleeding from the many cuts inflicted on Eskom Generation could not be staunched. Fortunately, the National Treasury seems to have finally realised that there is no way to make ‘Eskom Generation Great Again’ and has forbidden, as part of its debt-relief conditions, the utility from investing in new generation and to focus its capital expenditure attention instead on transmission and distribution. This is an important development and should be followed swiftly with the proper separation of the National Transmission Company South Africa from the rest of Eskom.