Initiatives by communities and the private sector to save municipalities from load shedding have been dealt a blow by a judgment in favour of Eskom in the high court this week.
And those involved in supplying electricity to the Free State town of Frankfort, using a solar farm they built themselves using private capital, say they can’t appeal the judgment without the support of the local Mafube municipality.
A company called Rural Maintenance has the managed power generation and distribution for Mafube for the past 11 years, and has a 25-year contract to do so.
However, problems arose with Eskom when Rural Maintenance introduced “voiding”, a term created to describe a situation where they do not implement load shedding as per the approved schedules during daytime hours when the solar PV plant is in optimal operation. Eskom repeatedly rejected this, prompting Rural Maintenance to take the matter to court in Johannesburg. On 20 April, Eskom won the case on a technicality.
Eskom was seeking to prevent the municipality using its own separately sourced energy, concerned “it would encourage customers throughout the country who have additional embedded generation capacity to claim similar relief”, according to an Eskom affidavit.
The judgment was decided on a technicality, not on the merits of the case. The judge argued that the municipality had chosen not to get involved in the court battle. Deidre Venter, from law firm Shepstone & Wylie, representing Rural Maintenance, said the matter was decided in this way because the municipality refused to go to court, or even sign an affidavit. The municipality said “it wanted no part of it”.
A Rural Maintenance statement stated: “We have no doubt that should the municipality have placed the needs of its community at the forefront, a different result may have been forthcoming. We can only hope there was no political meddling from outside of Mafube.
“Rural Maintenance now has no alternative but to switch off portions of the solar farm during the day from Friday, 21 April. It will therefore adhere to Eskom’s instructions and continue to apply power cuts to the community members who could otherwise have made use of the solar electricity. To reiterate, this means Rural Maintenance Free State will no longer be allowed to lessen the negative effects of load shedding when the sun is shining and, in turn, will have to dump unused solar energy while parts of Frankfort experience load shedding.
“We are obviously very disappointed with the outcome of the court case – especially in light of the fact that there is no negative impact for the Eskom national grid. What is especially hard to swallow is the reluctance of the Mafube Municipality to support Rural’s effort to lessen load shedding, while constant load shedding seems to be our future.
“Small businesses and citizens from all walks of life in Frankfort have come to rely on the reduction of load shedding when the sun was shining. This has certainly contributed positively to the lives of everyday people.”
Eskom said the statement by Rural Free State are misleading as the utility “does not place any restrictions on their use of self-generated electricity”, adding that it “welcomes the use of electricity from independent power producers that can assist in alleviating load shedding”.
Speaking on The Money Show on radio station 702 recently, Rural Maintenance CEO Chris Bosch described the Frankfort investment as a “whole community” project, and that R100-million was invested in the solar farm that has benefitted the entire community.
“It’s a blueprint that works in the face of corruption and government – but they don’t want to co-operate. We invest funds back because they are not being misappropriated. And every community could do this; we could fix our own problems,” Bosch said in a separate interview with TechCentral on Friday.
“But now there is no hope, we have to be beholden to government and embedded in their infrastructure. The electricity minister makes all sorts of pronouncements about solutions and then they do this. It’s a huge mess.” — © 2023 NewsCentral Media