terça-feira, 22 de janeiro de 2008

SA power crisis set to bite in Namibia

SUNDAY'S announcement by South Africa's Eskom power utility that it is halting electricity imports to neighbouring countries like Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe has sent shock waves through the Namibian business sector and households.

NamPower said it would only respond to the new developments at a press conference scheduled for today.

Asked if there was reason for Namibians to worry, John Kaimu, Manager for Marketing and Corporation at NamPower, declined to comment.

"We will hold a press conference tomorrow," was all Kaimu was prepared to say.

However, the Van Eck coal-fired power station in Windhoek has been active again in the last few days.

It can generate 120 MW of electricity if run at full throttle, but that costs about N$1 million a day.

CONCERNS SET IN Concerned readers phoned The Namibian yesterday, worried that the severe power cuts being experienced in South Africa will soon occur here.

Callers to several radio stations also voiced their concerns.

"We will probably have to invest in our own generators in due course just to be on the safe side," the owner of a Windhoek vehicle repair workshop told The Namibian when approached.

Nampa-AP reported yesterday that nationwide power outages shut down basic services across Zambia and Zimbabwe for hours on Saturday and Sunday as anger mounted in South Africa over power cuts that have wreaked havoc in the continent's economic hub.

There was no immediate explanation for Saturday night's blackout, which hit Zambia and neighbouring Zimbabwe almost simultaneously in the early evening, and it was unclear whether there was any connection.

Power was restored in Zambia about eight hours later, but long-suffering Zimbabweans remained without electricity, water, telephones and traffic signals for much of Sunday.

Eskom said on Sunday that it had stopped supplying electricity to neighbouring countries in the face of the dire shortage in South Africa.

The power company only exported electricity when it had a surplus, according to Eskom spokesman Sipho Neke.

"When we don't have enough capacity for domestic use, we don't sell electricity, he told the South African Press Agency (Sapa) on Sunday.

"There is no surplus, so there are no exports," Neke added.

Of the electricity generated by Eskom, 95 per cent is used locally.

The balance is exported to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

South Africa's peak electricity demand has grown tremendously in the past few years and has reached 36 700 megawatt (MW).

Eskom has a supply capacity of 38 500 MW.

If the difference between demand and supply is so marginal, with only 1 800 MW in reserve, which is below the internationally accepted reserve of 15 per cent, load shedding takes place.

Load shedding is carried out when electricity to some customers or areas is cut for several hours in order to satisfy peak demands in other areas.

This occurred again in South Africa on Friday, causing angry criticism from the business sector and private customers.

Enraged train commuters set six city trains alight near Pretoria on Friday evening after power blackouts delayed the trains by two hours.

Eskom has warned that the blackouts will continue this week.

Yesterday afternoon, the South African government said it would start electricity rationing to tackle the electricity crisis.

Nelisiwe Makubane, Deputy Director General of the Mines and Minerals Ministry, said the government was drawing up regulations along with Eskom that would be made public next week and should be implemented around 90 days later.

The 1 800 MW Koeberg nuclear power station north of Cape Town will be temporarily shut down this week to refuel it with new nuclear fuel rods.

Because of the power crisis, President Thabo Mbeki and Eskom management met on Sunday night to ascertain the extent of the problem and the company's remedial plans.

Mbeki will table the matter at a cabinet retreat in Pretoria from today to Thursday.

South African opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) on Sunday called on Eskom to cancel supply contracts with its neighbours while its domestic market was in such turmoil.

"Regardless of our contractual obligations, there can simply be no reason for South Africa to supply Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique when there is such a desperate lack of reserve capacity in our domestic market," the DA said.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has asked Eskom for answers about the electricity crisis.

It voiced concern at the negative effect of Eskom's power cuts on the provision of essential services and, by extension, human rights.

The trade union Solidarity created a website on Sunday (www.eskomstories.co.za), where businesses and ordinary South Africans can log their Eskom-related grievances.

NamPower told reporters at a briefing session last Friday that it might soon have to introduce load shedding in synchronisation with Eskom.

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