Electricity minister defends Eskom's R3bn-a-month diesel habit

Electricity Minister Kgosientso Ramokgopa has defended Eskom’s R12.4 billion diesel spend over the past four months, saying fuel needed to be burned to protect SA’s economy.

“What we are sharing with you is nothing outside of what we had promised,” the minister said at his regular Sunday briefing. “We did say that [burning diesel] is going to come at great cost to the fiscus.”

Since the beginning of April, the power utility has spent R12.4 billion on either burning diesel at its peaking plants or buying electricity generated from independent producers using diesel.

It spent R9.2 billion on buying diesel to power its fleet of open-cycle gas turbines, and R3.2 billion on buying electricity generated by independent producers. The diesel spend was within budget, said Ramokgopa. 

The minister said the power utility had planned three key interventions to keep load shedding as low as possible during winter: trying to make plants run better, reducing demand, and burning diesel.

“We are not surprised by these numbers. It was always part of our deliberate strategy to protect the SA economy,” he said in reference to the R12.4 billion figure. 

“You have to make a choice on whether you continue to burn this diesel – essentially expending a lot of money and protect the SA economy, or allow the economy to go [into] free fall.”

“Of course we don’t have that money in buckets,” he added. 

Ramokgopa said he expected the intensity of load shedding to start to decrease as the country nears the end of winter, although he gave no definite promises.  

An expected fall in demand will allow Eskom to ramp up planned maintenance at its fleet of power stations, he said. 

The minister declined to say when exactly load shedding would end for good. He also didn’t give any indication of when the power utility would appoint a full-time CEO.