NUM goes to war over proposed Eskom power station closures

29th March 2017 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on Wednesday said it was planning mass protest action over State-owned power utility Eskom’s decision to mothball five power stations in the next five years to make room for independent power producers (IPPs).

In an effort to “save” Eskom from bankruptcy and privatisation, as well as to prevent the loss of up to 50 000 direct and indirect jobs, the union said it would mobilise all its members across the mining, energy and construction sectors and society at large to protest against the signing of the inclusion of more IPPs into the national grid.

“We are going to go on strike, because this is a war we must win,” vowed NUM president Piet Matosa, adding that the government was not listening anymore and that the closure of the five coal-fired power plants would lead to rising electricity prices, in addition to significant job losses.

Eskom earlier this year came under pressure to cement long-outstanding power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable-energy IPPs, which came to a head in February, when President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation address directed Eskom to sign the PPAs.

However, NUM highlighted to media at its Johannesburg headquarters on Wednesday that the cost of this decision is concerning, and would lead to the financial distress of the parastatal and subsequent “backdoor” privatisation.

“With Eskom having to buy electricity from the IPPs, they find themselves having to close five power stations, which translates to about 10 000 direct job losses only in the power stations, and a further 40 000 individuals that might be without jobs in the surrounding [communities and mines] of the power stations,” NUM said.

The power stations to be shut down are Hendrina, Kriel, Komati, Grootvlei and Camden.

The labour union called on government to review the decision with immediate effect, pointing out that, while they supported green energy, it did not “support backdoor privatisation of Eskom in the form of IPPs.”

“We will embark on rolling mass action to defend Eskom from being run down so that by the time it is a burden to the State it is sold for a cent.”

Earlier this month, Eskom acting CEO Matshela Koko told Engineering News Online that the financial implications for Eskom as a result of the decision to sign the PPAs cannot be dismissed.

“We will proceed as instructed, but there are consequences,” he said at the time.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown has also previously warned that Eskom was operating at a surplus of 4 000 MW “on any given day” owing to a drop in demand, a major shortfall in growth at well below the hoped for 5% and electricity growth higher than 2% a year.

NUM’s threats have emerged shortly after high-profile protest action undertaken by the Coal Transportation Forum on March 1.

Forum members had blockaded roads in Pretoria on route to the Union Buildings during its protest, in reaction to Eskom’s estimate that the introduction of renewable-energy IPPs will result in 55.8-million tons less coal being burned yearly by 2022, which would reduce the amount of coal transported by road by 112.5-million tons over the coming five years.