Illegal electricity connections to Eskom’s grid cause two stages of load-shedding due to additional demand and damage to infrastructure.
This is according to Mashangu Xivambu, senior manager for maintenance and operations at the state-owned utility, who spoke to BusinessDay about Eskom’s efforts to combat illegal connections.
Illegal connections add unforeseen demand for electricity, making Eskom’s job managing the grid more complex than it needs to be.
They also risk overloading electricity infrastructure in areas where illegal connections are prevalent.
Illegal connections cause network faults, and customers switched off during load-shedding suffer unscheduled outages.
“Customers will be off because we have network faults generated by these illegal connections. The connections are not properly done, not protected, and as a result, the network trips,” he said.
The country would avoid two stages of load-shedding if Eskom could root out illegal connections in Gauteng alone.
However, it has proven difficult for Eskom and law enforcement to remove illegal connections as residents often threaten the safety of the utility’s workers.
Last week, Eskom technicians abandoned part of their operation to remove illegal connections in Marlboro industrial area for safety reasons.
People living illegally in an abandoned factory had allegedly connected electricity illegally and threatened to burn down nearby factories if Eskom cut the cables.
For fear for their safety and citing limited law enforcement agencies and a few private security guards who had accompanied them, Eskom technicians eventually abandoned their operation.
Xivambu said when Eskom disconnected the wires, residents usually reconnected them. “Unfortunately, it is a repeated cycle. We remove it today, and the next day they reinstall it.”
Sabotage of infrastructure at catastrophic levels
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said sabotage at Eskom is of grave concern and catastrophic proportions with highly organised attempts to undermine the country’s electricity supply.
Ramokgopa made these comments during an interview on eNCA, where he gave an update on the government’s implementation of the Energy Action Plan (EAP).
“We are placing significant amounts of effort in ensuring that we protect these assets and defend the gains we have made,” Ramokgopa said.
The National Electricity Crisis Committee (NECOM) has set aside a group of intelligence and police experts to focus on workstream six of the EAP, focusing solely on crime, corruption, and safety at Eskom.
This has resulted in over 1,300 cases of sabotage being reported and over 100 arrests being made.
However, we need to “go beyond the ordinary men to the main orchestrators and the brains behind the efforts to undermine electricity supply”, Ramokgopa said.
Clearly, the destruction of infrastructure is not coincidental, but rather it is orchestrated. NECOM has identified several links between acts of sabotage on Eskom infrastructure and the destruction of rail infrastructure in the country.
The minister said he “is more than confident that we will get to the bottom of this” because “if we do not solve this, all of our efforts will be undermined”.