Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has identified Eskom’s Tutuka Power Station’s two most pressing problems – poor quality coal and procurement irregularities related to corruption.
The minister toured Tutuka on Wednesday, 22 March, when he identified it as the second most problematic power station. Kusile, which has yet to become fully operational, is the worst-performing station.
Tutuka has an energy availability factor (EAF) of between 15% and 17%, according to former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter.
This is a significant decrease from its performance just a few years ago when its EAF was 75%. Last year, its EAF was 30%.
“There are issues that require attention in the procurement environment, and this can be closely associated with the existence of corruption,” said the minister.
Corruption delays Tutuka’s ability to procure quality spares at the right time and the right price.
Corruption has been an ongoing problem at Tutuka.
In 2019, sabotage at Tutuka plunged the country into stage 6 load-shedding.
An Eskom insider allegedly tampered with the station’s monitors, leading to two boilers tripping and 2,000 MW being lost.
In the same year, Eskom mandated Bizz Tracers to investigate repeated breakdowns at Tutuka. It found that a Tutuka manager had allegedly orchestrated sabotage at the plant to allow companies close to him to get contracts from Eskom.
Bizz Trackers also found that Tutuka managers allegedly stole cables and destroyed components to receive repeat business and contracts at the station.
Earlier this year, Business Day reported that Eskom paid exorbitant prices for containers and grass trimmers at Tutuka in 2020.
Eskom allegedly paid R940,000 for an oil storage container that could have been bought for R80,000 and R600,000 to fix 12 grass trimmers.
In 2021, two Eskom employees and a supplier to the utility were arrested and charged with theft, fraud and corruption related to the disappearance of spares at Tutuka. These spares were worth millions of rands.
Ramokgopa said procurement issues due to corruption at Tutuka have resulted in multiple units remaining offline.
These comments seem to contradict the minister’s previous statements, as he has insisted that technical and investment issues are at the heart of Eskom’s problems, and not corruption.
However, he clarified that, of the five power plants he has visited so far, only Tutuka’s management had identified corruption as one of its challenges.
“Here is the first time I get to a station where they say, We think there is corruption here, especially in procurement. The speed with which you get spares parts, the price of these parts – you can see that there is collusion and something that requires attention.”
This echoes what was said by De Ruyter in his answering affidavit in response to a court case regarding load-shedding lodged by ActionSA, the UDM, and 17 other parties.
De Ruyter said, “Intolerable levels of criminality plaguing Tutuka are undoubtedly a significant contributor to its unacceptably low EAF.”
Criminality at the station is so rampant that the Tutuka station manager must wear a bulletproof vest when walking the stations and be accompanied by two bodyguards.
While Tutuka’s procurement issues are related to corruption, Ramokgopa specified that the station’s coal quality problems are not.
“Let me hasten to say that the quality of the coal has nothing to do with the cartels but everything to do with the planning of the mine and what comes out of the mine.”
Ramokgopa said coal quality issues have to do with mills that are being destroyed due to “the presence of rocks and stone”.
The calorific value of the coal extracted from the mine also undermines the burning rate and the station’s ability to produce at the right level.
The quality of coal that comes out of the mine “requires our collective attention”, the minister said.
Despite the challenges Tutuka faces, there is hope for the power station.
Newzroom Africa recently reported that Tutuka plans to have all six units “up and running” by the end of April. This could restore 3,000 MW to the grid, eliminating three load-shedding stages.
The acting general manager of Tutuka, Mxolisi Ntanzi, said support from the electricity minister is already yielding positive results.
“I think he is very supportive. He has brought a lot of hope. One thing that has stood out for me is that he is part of us. He is not here to judge us, but he is here to assist us in getting us where we are supposed to be.”