South African state power company Eskom said there was a high risk later on Tuesday of “Stage 6” electricity cuts, which it has only implemented once before, after 10 generation units went offline and as a strike disrupts its operations.
Eskom’s ageing coal-fired power station fleet is highly prone to faults, and its ability to return units to service has been constrained by labour protests.
The protests started last week after wage talks between Eskom and trade unions including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the National Union of Mineworkers reached a deadlock.
Eskom has been implementing ‘Stage 4’ power cuts requiring up to 4,000 megawatts (MW) to be shed from the national grid since late last week. Stage 6 outages would require up to 6,000 MW to be shed and were only implemented once before in December 2019.
The utility plans to meet union leaders on Tuesday to try to resolve issues relating to the strike, Eskom Chief Executive Andre de Ruyter said. He repeated that the strike was illegal because electricity provision was considered an essential service.
Eskom was granted a court interdict to block the strike, but the protests have continued.
The loss-making utility, saddled with debt approaching 400 billion rand (US$25.2 billion) is trying to contain costs as part of turnaround efforts.
Reforming Eskom is a priority for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government, but efforts to improve its performance have been slow to bear fruit.