November 2, 2014 / 4:08 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 2-Collapsed coal silo pushes S.Africa into power blackouts

* Outage risk on Monday, Wednesday evenings, all Thursday

* 4,110 MW Majuba station producing only 600 MW

* Eskom resorts to mobile coal feeders (Recasts with Eskom comments)

By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

JOHANNESBURG, Nov 2 (Reuters) - South Africa’s power utility Eskom said power outages that began on Sunday would likely continue during the week after a collapsed coal silo at its Majuba station cut generation capacity in an already overstretched grid.

This is the second time this year Eskom is implementing rolling blackouts. It imposed similar cuts in March that were the first time in six years, underscoring just how precarious the balance is between South Africa’s power supply and demand.

Eskom said there was a risk of power outages on Monday evening over the peak period between 6.00 pm and 8.00 p.m. More cuts were also probable over Wednesday evening and the whole of Thursday.

Aged 13, the 4,110 MW Majuba plant is Eskom’s youngest station. It was sitting at capacity output of 600 MW on Sunday evening, Chief Executive Tshediso Matona told a news conference.

“We do not think we will be able to recover all the capacity but our aim is over the next couple of days to ensure that we recover as much capacity as is possible,” Matona, who was appointed to the position in August, said.

A maintenance crew working on a conveyer noticed coal leaking out of the central silo on Saturday. The area was evacuated before the whole structure collapsed on itself, cutting off supply to the plant’s other two silos and all six generating units at the station.

The debris could take about two weeks to clear, Eskom said.

In the meantime, the company plans to supply four of the units manually by ferrying 30 trucks of coal to mobile feeders every hour to keep turbines turning.

The remaining two units may remain idle until the rubble from the collapsed building is cleared to make way for a mobile feeder.

Eskom, which produces virtually all South Africa’s power, has struggled to overcome electricity shortages as labour strikes and shoddy workmanship have delayed new generation coming on stream.

Because of the impact on growth and on key sectors such as mining, the government is keen that Eskom bridge its wide funding gap, estimated at around 225 billion rand ($20.4 billion), over the next four to five years.

Last month, the national Treasury said it would inject 20 billion rand ($1.8 billion) into the utility, and that it may also convert its existing 60 billion rand subordinated loan to equity.

This was after it approved a financial package in September that includes the company raising 50 billion rand in additional debt, over and above its original plan of 200 billion rand.

1 US dollar = 11.0345 South African rand Editing by Stephen Powell

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