The return to service of Kusile Unit 3 on Saturday (30 September) is a significant step towards ending load shedding – but it comes at a price as Eskom is unable to comply with the requirements regarding sulphur emissions, says Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa.
He was speaking on Sunday during his weekly briefing about progress in the implementation of government’s energy action plan.
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After some load shedding reprieve over the weekend, Eskom suspended it on Sunday until Monday afternoon.
The unit that has now come online at Kusile is the first of three units impacted by a chimney collapse about a year ago.
This robbed Eskom of about 2 400MW of generation capacity, which is equal to at least two stages of load shedding and informed the dire winter outlook that predicted intensified load shedding of up to Stage 8 – although this did not materialise due to lower electricity demand than expected.
More units to come online soon
The return to service of Unit 3 is two months ahead of schedule. The other two units are expected to follow in October and November.
Ramokgopa said Unit 3 was generating about 550MW on Sunday morning and its performance is expected to be ramped up to be closer to its installed capacity of 800MW.
He said having all three units back in service will bring a step-change in unplanned outages (breakdowns), which Eskom has been battling to get below 15 000MW.
Eskom also expects to synchronise Unit 5 to the grid for the first time in December – and while it will not yet be in commercial operation, it will add some extra capacity while being tested.
The completion of the unit was delayed after a fire broke out and damaged it in September last year. At the time, commercial operation – which had been set for the end of this year – was expected to be delayed by a full year.
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The switch-on of Unit 3 came after Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy dismissed an appeal against her earlier decision to grant Eskom an exemption from the sulphur emission standards for a year and similar permission was granted by the Nkangala District Municipality, in whose area of jurisdiction Kusile is situated.
Eskom is still looking into the root causes of the chimney collapse and will only be able to do the full repairs by the end of next year.
Due to the load shedding crisis it has implemented an interim solution that bypasses the flue-gas desulphurisation unit, and therefore it had to get the exemption.
Ramokgopa said Eskom had to balance the need for additional generation capacity with issues of health, socio-economic impact, and the environment. “We could have waited until the end of 2024 [to fix the three units at Kusile]” but also had to consider the cost of intense load shedding to the economy.
“It is not easy to ask for exemption, because we have an obligation to the community,” he said.
The exemption did however come with strict conditions, including a requirement for Eskom to submit a health plan to mitigate the impact of the sulphur emissions.
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Eskom head of generation Bheki Nxumalo emphasised the exemption is only for sulphur emissions and only for Units 1, 2 and 3, and Eskom will comply with all other emission standards at Kusile.
Ramokgopa showed that, with the exception of partial load losses – which means units are generating electricity, but at sub-optimum levels – the performance of the Eskom fleet has improved against the baseline of May this year, when he was appointed to end load shedding.