Date: 08 March 2020 By: Andries van Zyl
On a positive note, the Soutpansberg and the rest of the country have been spared the scourge of load shedding the past week. This could not be said of last week when Louis Trichardt and surrounds were left in the dark as a result of numerous electrical faults, some of which were a direct result of last weekend’s load shedding.
During the early hours of Saturday, 22 February, thieves tried to steal copper cables at the Stubbs Street substation during load shedding. Although they failed in their endeavour, the damage to the substation caused a 20-hour blackout to large parts of Louis Trichardt as the Makhado Municipality struggled to repair the damage.
This incident and the municipality’s inability to respond quickly once again highlighted the dilapidated state of Louis Trichardt’s electricity network as a result of poor maintenance and a lack of upgrading. In February 2017, the town’s available notified maximum demand (NMD) was already at 44 mega volt amp (MVA), with the demand almost maxed out. In June of that year, the municipality applied to Eskom for an increase to 66 MVA. Almost three years later, what had happened to the municipality’s application is still not known. In the meantime, apartment buildings and other structures are mushrooming everywhere in town. This warrants the question asked by many: How long can the electricity supply to Louis Trichardt be maintained if the network is not upgraded?
In April last year, a report from the municipality’s technical department indicated that, at that stage, Makhado required 55MVA of electricity. The problem of electrical faults and poor response time by the municipality was also highlighted by their most recent draft annual report for 2018/19.
“It should be noted that, whilst the municipality is doing well with regards to electrification, the municipality is experiencing a huge challenge with regard to operation and maintenance of the current electrical infrastructure. Lack of funding, as well as a very large backlog in preventative maintenance, have been identified as key risks, which the municipality will need to focus on urgently. Another critical challenge is of bulk-supply capacity to expand the growth of the town. To date, the municipality’s electrical bulk capacity amounts to 48 MVA. This capacity is not enough if the municipality intends to meet the Special Economic Zone expectations. The municipality is currently in negotiations with ESKOM and it is anticipated that an additional 18MVA will be made available in the year 2020/21,” the report reads.
As mentioned, the report also highlights the municipality’s low response rate to fault reporting. “The municipality is experiencing a low response rate with regard to responding to call-outs. A total of 11 117 calls were logged with the call centre during the year under review,” the report states. It then gives a breakdown of faults reported and attended to over the previous four years, namely 6 528 for 2015/16, 7 283 for 2016/17, 5 326 for 2017/18 and then 11 117 for 2018/19. The spike in faults reported and attended to in 2018/19 is contributed to improved monitoring of performance through the municipal call centre. “On average, 88% of all calls received at the call centre were complaints related to electricity services. Due to the municipality’s vast electrical network, the determination of the losses is a challenge. The NERSA norm on electricity losses is 10%. Losses are due to overhead power lines, wind, heat, copper, ion and aluminium losses that are inherent in any electrical distribution system. Neither of the two can be done as a result of financial capacity and equipment constraints,” the municipality states in the report.
About two weeks ago, the Zoutpansberger asked the municipality what had happened to Council resolution ITEM A.97.29.06.17 wherein they resolved to apply to Eskom to increase the town’s NMD to 66MVA. When this item served before the council on 29 June 2017, it was noted that the municipality had already paid a feasibility fee of R101 510 and a budget quote fee of R839 582.64 to Eskom. Also noted in the Council resolution was that the chief financial officer must negotiate with Eskom on the deposit of R129 million for the upgrade either by appealing against the amount, or that arrangements be made with the banks to issue a bank guarantee for this amount. To date, the municipal spokesperson has yet to respond to the media enquiry, despite numerous follow-up requests.
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.