Former Eskom CEO, Andre de Ruyter, has cautioned that load-shedding exemptions contained in the regulations of the energy State of Disaster (SOD) can result in a total grid collapse.
On 27 February, the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) published the regulations for the electricity SOD.
The SOD was announced by President Ramaphosa during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) to “enable us to provide practical measures that we need to take to support businesses”.
The state of disaster enables the government to “exempt essential infrastructure such as hospitals and water treatment plants from load-shedding”.
The central objective of the SOD, according to CoGTA, is to “assist the energy-generating entities to restore their capacity”.
Aside from facilitating and easing the procurement of new electricity generation, the regulations state that there must be the continuous provision of services.
This may be done through alternative energy sources or “essential infrastructure being exempted from load-shedding”.
The regulations require national, provincial, and local governments to ensure the continuous operation of health facilities, water infrastructure, and other essential infrastructure.
Cabinet members, under the regulations, are able to declare essential infrastructure and services exempt from load-shedding or have a reduced load-shedding schedule.
The only limitation is that exemptions must be “undertaken in a manner that does not result in an increased risk of placing the national grid under pressure”.
Many experts, including former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, shared concerns about these regulations, particularly the allowance of exemptions.
Risk of total blackout
Harald Winkler from UCT’s School of Economics says that these regulations “leave much unclear” and thus, there is a “significant risk that the broad powers bestowed by the SOD could be used poorly”.
For Winkler, the outcomes of the SOD “depend on who the ministers are after the cabinet reshuffle”.
What is very worrying is that these regulations have no end date, and so regular checks and balances could be indefinitely suspended.
Ruse Moleshe, an energy expert at RUBK, said that the regulations “on paper look impressive,” but in reality, “nothing is new”.
They are unlikely to impact load-shedding in the short term, and there is nothing in the regulations to prevent procurement fraud of the sort that occurred during the Covid state of disaster.
Former Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter, in an affidavit responding to a court application from political parties and trade unions, laid out the danger of allowing exemptions.
The court application called for the exemption of hospitals, schools, telecoms networks, and other essential services from load-shedding.
De Ruyter said such widespread exemptions would “without a doubt, pose a serious and unacceptable risk of a national blackout”.
Mass exemptions would ensure that electricity demand outstripped supply to an extent where the grid would become unstable.
Power stations automatically disconnect from the grid when it becomes unstable for safety reasons.
This would result in a grid collapse and total blackout. The “consequences would be catastrophic”, said De Ruyter. It would take several weeks to restore Eskom’s grid to full operation.
Furthermore, Eskom has said that it is technically impossible to isolate and exclude particular customers from load-shedding as they are embedded in Eskom’s distribution network.
Exemptions would result in unessential entities having reduced load-shedding or none at all, leaving “very little load left to be shed to reduce demand”, De Ruyter said. “This presents a manifest risk of grid collapse or blackout.”