Eskom and representatives from the Free State town Frankfort are set to meet in the Johannesburg High Court this week over a dispute about load-shedding schedules, reports Rapport.
Mafube municipality’s business forum and private power distributor Rural Maintenance approached the court to preserve the status quo until the dispute can be resolved with energy regulator Nersa.
At the heart of the dispute is that Eskom threatens to block Rural Maintenance from setting reduced load-shedding schedules, despite procuring additional solar power for Frankfort.
Rural Maintenance buys electricity from four solar farms in the area at a lower tariff than Eskom charges and supplies it to the Mafube municipality.
According to the report, Rural Maintenance holds a 50% stake in the community-run solar farms. The rest is owned by twenty farmers and businesses in the area.
The photovoltaic solar power stations can supply 3.7 megawatts (MW) of electricity. When their final phase of development is complete, they will have a capacity of 4.2 MW.
Although the dispute with Eskom is over whether Rural Maintenance can implement its own load-shedding schedule, the outcome will determine whether the solar farms are fully used.
Rural Maintenance chief executive officer Chris Bosch told Rapport that they would have to switch off parts of the solar farms while people in the town sit without power.
Adjustments to Frankfort’s load-shedding schedule that keeps water pumps and sewage works running could also be halted.
Bosch says if Eskom is allowed to follow through on its threat, no one will invest in alternative energy.
If people are prevented from gaining the full benefit from their investment, what’s the point?
This is not the first time Eskom has tried to block a private power distributor from taking over its functions.
Last year, the state-owned power utility opposed Greenstone Energy’s application to privately supply a section of the Linbro Park suburb near Sandton in Johannesburg.
Linbro Park’s residents and businesses wanted to ditch Eskom after suffering 66 days of power outages on top of their typical load-shedding schedule.
Greenstone Energy asked the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) to supply the area with electricity using gas-powered plants.
Crucially, it would also replace Eskom’s transmission and distribution network.
It would serve 1,781 households, three offices, two schools, two churches, a hotel, and a conference centre.
Eskom opposed the application, claiming the area “only” suffered 29 days without electricity — excluding load-shedding.
It also said having multiple power distributors’ cables in the same road reserve would create a dangerous situation.
Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality is also at loggerheads with Eskom over the rights to distribute power to the planned Mooikloof Mega City on the outskirts of Pretoria East.
The R84-billion development’s electricity supply deal would generate an estimated R1.5 billion in revenue annually.