City Power to spend R300m to end cuts

City Power says that it will spend about R300m this year to upgrade Johannesburg's ageing and erratic electricity distribution network.

The city of Johannesburg has been hit recently by frequent power cuts caused by poor infrastructure costing organised business millions of rand.

A lack of regular maintenance and investment in new infrastructure, coupled with increasing demand and illegal connections, have led to the power cuts.

But City Power said yesterday that last week's power failures were caused by a freak thunderstorm that hit the city. Trees fell on overhead power cables, causing the network to trip in several areas.

Power has been restored in the affected areas, which included Parktown, Auckland Park, Linden and Westcliff.

City Power's acting CEO, Silus Zimu, said the company would spend up to R300m to upgrade its network this year.

He said an additional R100m would be spent on a maintenance programme "to ensure that we have a sustainable network in future".

"City Power has appointed consultants to develop network master plans. We have also appointed original equipment manufacturers to work with us. They have already started to do major projects," Zimu said.

Last year City Power CEO Mogwailane Mohlala said the city's infrastructure was dilapidated and that it would take about three years to overhaul the entire power supply system.

More than R2bn had been allocated to tackle the network's problems in the next five years.

City Power said internal audits of the electricity network had found that more than 70% of the infrastructure was between 20 and 40 years old, with 7% of it older than 40 years.

The audit also found that the networks in the central and southern regions were in the worst condition, with almost 80% of the overhead network requiring replacement.

Upgrades were impossible on equipment that had been maintained beyond its life span.

Independent think-tank BusinessMap Foundation has said that the slow process of training technicians to replace skilled ones who have left has contributed to the deterioration of the network.

The South African Chamber of Commerce said that the power cuts had had an "enormous impact" on the economy, but it would be almost impossible to quantify what they had cost businesses in the city.

This was because power failures were not widespread and occurred for short periods.

However, there was great loss in the form of spoilt goods for restaurants and other small businesses.

City Power said R460m was spent last year on infrastructure maintenance and refurbishment "in the problem areas".

These included the suburbs of North Riding in Randburg and Weltevreden Park in Roodepoort . More than R500m had been spent in the past two years to upgrade power networks in Alexandra, Lenasia, Randburg and Midrand.

City Power said its immediate focus would be on improving its response time , removing illegal connections, eliminating faults in consumers' installations and improving communication with its customers.

Article by: Khulu Phasiwe - www.sundaytimes.co.za