Eskom Mpumalanga facing coal shortages as rainy season starts

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Eskom is facing a catastrophic coal shortage which is due to deepen as the rainy season in Mpumalanga approaches.

The national power supplier is in the throes of numerous operational disasters, stretching from looming financial collapse to the scourge of continuous maladministration. Yet, the most daunting of problems comes in the form of a severe coal shortage which is threatening to plunge South Africa into darkness.

Eskom’s coal crisis cannot be viewed as an independent issue – it is a direct result of a dodgy deal inked with a Gupta-owned company for the supply of fuel. Tegeta Exploration and Resources, which is currently under business rescue administration, was awarded a multi-billion rand contract to keep Eskom’s coal stockpiles loaded.

Following the collapse of the Gupta empire, Tegeta went belly-up, and so with it, Eskom’s ability to secure sustainable stockpiles. This, in addition to all the other difficulties currently faced by the power utility, has the propensity to leave South Africa in the dark.

Eskom: Coal shortages becoming the norm

Eskom is running out of coal. A recent report by Moneyweb states that five power stations have less than 10 days’ stock. This is in direct contravention of the South African Grid Code, which requires Eskom to maintain stock levels at 20 days.

Eskom CEO Phakamani Hadebe previously reported to parliament that the embattled utility had coal stockpiles of on average 28 days, but that 66% of stations had less than 10 days’ stock. Worryingly, stockpiles have dwindled even further in recent weeks.

According to Phawise, Eskom is now planning on moving coal from its Medupi power plant in Limpopo to the facilities in Mpumalanga. Coal is to be transported via trucks. It’s also reported that Transnet has been called in to assist with the emergency transportation of coal stocks.

Phawise also confirmed that Eskom has signed new contracts with competent coal suppliers which should stabilise production by the end of the year.

Rainy season in Mpumalanga approaches

While Eskom’s plan to transport coal reserves from elsewhere in the country to the embattled power stations of Mpumalanga, the province’s incoming rainy season has thrown a spoke in the wheels of this redistribution strategy.

Naturally, wet coal doesn’t burn. The piles of black coal exposed to the elements have deepened Eskom’s crisis, causing Phawise to warn of load shedding in summer. In order to stave off a complete collapse of the electrical grid, Eskom is relying on the use of costly diesel-fuelled open-cycle gas turbines (OCGTs), thereby eating away at its already meagre profits.