NATIONAL NEWS - Embattled power utility Eskom has reached a point of no return in the construction of its two new build projects, which have to be completed in spite of time and cost overruns.
Questions have been raised by the public and within Eskom’s board on whether Medupi and Kusile should be completed as construction runs significantly over budget and over schedule. To add insult to injury, the power plants have been racked by design and technical faults and are under performing.
The new build projects, whose construction began about 12 years ago, were meant to plug the gap in electricity supply as Eskom pulls off the old and ageing power plants, which experience frequent breakdowns, for much-needed maintenance.
“Medupi is almost 94% [complete] and Kusile is sitting at about 89%; there is no going back, we just have to correct what we have” said Eskom chief executive Phakamani Hadebe on Wednesday.
Hadebe said the utility had spent over R260 billion on the power plants and out of a total of 12 units, only three have been commercialised at Medupi while Kusile has only one commercialised unit.
“Our challenge is that at best, they perform at about 50% or so,” said Hadebe.
Board chairperson Jabu Mabuza said Eskom had conducted a cost-benefit analysis of halting construction and found that it was more beneficial to “spend more time and money to mitigate the risks of completion than to abandon completion”.
Mabuza said that even if the utility were to stop construction on the plants, it would still need to find additional capacity. He said Eskom would need to build something else, which would have its own costs and would take five years.
In the meantime, Eskom has to find a way to meet the nation’s demand for electricity with its unreliable, ageing fleet.
Eskom is not going to rid itself of an ageing fleet by building something new, Mabuza said. “The ageing fleet will continue to age, so we have to provide for this ageing fleet, which put us in the position we are in.”
A presentation by the technical review task team showed that some of the issues at Medupi and Kusile include boiler design faults that result in high temperatures, which the cooling water system cannot quell.
The dust handling plant is plagued by excessive leaks, a lack of spares, premature failure of parts and ash build up, which leads to unit trips.
Phindile Mookestsi, a member of the Technical Review Team (TRT) appointed to look into the operational issues at Eskom, said a comparative study was conducted, which put the two plants against their global counterparts and found that “Medupi and Kusile are not that bad”.
Ian Morrison, who is also a member of the TRT, added that people forget that all power stations coming into operation experience “teething problems”.
“We have to give the new build space to settle down and sort out some of the defects and optimise maintenance and operations; we should then have a world class asset,” said Morrison.
Within the next two months Eskom will commercialise two additional units at Medupi and Kusile, which Hadebe says are the best-performing out of all the units at the new build power plants.