Electricity company Eskom has stopped a private producer in the Free State Municipality from using solar energy to mitigate the load-shedding crisis. Eskom reasoned that allowing Rural Maintenance Free State – a private company distributing electricity to Mafube Local Municipality – to continue with its load shedding schedule would set a “precedent” for other Eskom customers to seek similar relief. The Johannesburg High Court ruled in Eskom’s favour, and Rural Maintenance will no longer be allowed to continue with the schedule. Eskom argued that larger-scale similar circumstances could prevent the utility from managing the national grid, leading to possible nationwide blackouts with catastrophic consequences.
Why Did Rural Maintenance Claim a Victory in Frankfort?
Rural Maintenance has been managing Frankfort’s power distribution through a contract with the local municipality for over a decade. The private company buys electricity from four local solar farms at a relatively low price and distributes it to the town. The situation provided an opportunity for Rural Maintenance to manage load shedding, experimenting with alternative power sources.
After consulting with Eskom, Rural Maintenance launched five projects that generated more electricity than the town used, leading to no load shedding on some days. The company’s CEO, Chris Bosch, remarked that now, people in the area know that if the weather is good from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon, they will not have to deal with load shedding. Rural Maintenance Free State said Eskom’s resistance to private initiatives to increase power supply adds insult to injury, considering Eskom’s inability to supply the national electricity needs consistently.
Court Ruling Implications
The Joburg High Court’s ruling in favour of Eskom would discourage alternative power installations and discourage private investment initiatives on top of repercussions for Rural Maintenance. Shepstone & Wylie, the legal firm representing Rural Maintenance, said Eskom gave the company permission for ‘self-load shedding’ with immediate effect, but Eskom eventually objected and demanded the use of its alternative energy to cease. Eskom’s latest announcement of extended stage six load shedding for the entire day on Friday, April 21, along with no apparent improvement in electricity supply, raises concerns that South Africans may face the equivalent of stage 10 load shedding.
Even though Eskom has failed to supply consistent, stable electricity to South Africans, newly appointed Electricity Minister Kgosientso Ramokgopa tried reassuring the public that the grid would not collapse. The minister stated that there is always 2,000MW in reserve, a figure that should keep the grid steady during load shedding. Despite the reassurance, there remains a high probability of winter pushing beyond stage 6 load shedding. Households and businesses could face up to 16-hour outages in 32-hour blocks.