Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter is hopeful that the
breather the power utility is experiencing during the coronavirus lockdown may provide a buffer against future bouts of load shedding, he said on Thursday.

While he did not guarantee this would be possible, he said
Eskom was doing “extensive contingency planning” to ensure the power
utility had “enough of a buffer period” prior to the end of lockdown
to enable it to meet demand.

De Ruyter – who in January warned there would be a
heightened likelihood of load shedding for around 18 months as Eskom ramped up
its maintenance programme – was speaking
to financial journalist Bruce Whitfield on The Money Show
on
Thursday evening.

Eskom has around 10 500 employees going to work as normal,
with sanitisation procedures in place. Some 15 000 employees are on call, while
around 19 000 are working from home.

Three have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been treated
“very capably” by Eskom’s Chief Medical Officer, De Ruyter said.

Stronger, more reliable

De Ruyter expressed confidence that lockdown – which has been devastating
to many smaller businesses – could prove to be a fruitful period for the
ailing state-owned entity, which is crippled by some R450 billion in debt and a
backlog in overdue maintenance.  

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure that
once lockdown is over… we can meet demand,” he said.

“I think we’ll emerge stronger and more reliable,”
he added.

The power utility has experienced a major reduction in
demand during the lockdown period of around 7 500 MW, and has
roughly doubled its planned maintenance
, Fin24 previously reported.

However, it has also had to pause its long-term maintenance
programme, which spokesperson Sikonathi Mantshantsha described as a “lost
opportunity”.

De Ruyter said he believed Eskom was making the “best
possible use” of the time during lockdown, despite the postponement of larger
maintenance tasks. It would be a health risk to have a large concentration of
contractors on site, he noted.

Asked whether the power utility was maximising resources, he
responded: “I believe we are.”

However, he acknowledged, the lockdown has resulted in a
further delay to construction at Kusile, which has already been hamstrung by
multiple delays and ballooning costs.

* Compiled by Marelise van der Merwe

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