Cape Town to Break Free from Failing South African Electricity Utility

Cape Town (Getty)
Getty

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The City of Cape Town, whose residents are frustrated with the repeated electricity failures of the national utility, Eskom, has invited bids from independent power providers to supply the city with 300 MW of electricity.

Eskom is the state-owned electricity provider in South Africa. It was once considered a cutting-edge power company, with advanced technology and the capacity to generate the world’s cheapest electricity. Twenty years ago, there were even plans to privatize Eskom attracting foreign direct investment while growing the utility’s capacity.

But the ruling African National Congress (ANC), under pressure from the left to maintain state control, and seeing opportunities to use the country’s state-owned companies to advance aggressive affirmative action policies, reversed those plans.

Over the years, Eskom and other utilities became stacked with ANC cronies while they lost skilled engineers and experts. The result: gradual failure.

The rolling blackouts, or “load-shedding,” began about sixteen years ago, when a maintenance problem at Eskom’s nuclear power plant near Cape Town plunged the city into darkness during peak demand in a late summer heat wave.

The problem has only grown since then, and the city, governed by the opposition Democratic Alliance, has decided to turn to independent power companies to provide its electricity needs, rather than relying on Eskom, which shows no capacity for improvement.

Last week, Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis used the occasion of a solar power conference to make the city’s announcement:

Over the coming months, the City of Cape Town will procure up to 300MW of renewable energy.

The City will be considering proposals from IPPs for projects between 5¬–20MW that will allow us to access an affordable and reliable electricity supply, especially those that are able to help us reduce our reliance on Eskom during peak times of use. We will consider proposals from a range of projects, including generation-only projects, generation-plus-storage projects, and storage-only projects.

During the plenary, I asked Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe whether the national government is committed to opening the way for municipal generation. The Minister’s response was that his department “would not stand in Cape Town’s way”.

It is crucial to the City that we are not only able to keep the lights on during off-peak times, but that we are able to supply households and businesses with electricity when demand is at its highest.

The mayor said that the city would also invite bids to provide smaller power generation projects of 20MW that could be brought online quickly to deal with surges in demand.

The city’s bid or tender documents are available on its website.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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