Energy: Eskom defends municipal power outages in top court

Eskom has sought to distance itself from power supply problems in communities that experience transformer explosions and illegal connections. It squared off in the Constitutional Court this week with residents’ associations that want it to be compelled to increase power supply in their communities. A Cape Argus report notes the Vaal River Development Association and the Lekwa Ratepayers’ Association – based in Mpumalanga and the Free State respectively – had earlier scored a victory over Eskom at the SCA. Eskom resorted to the apex court to try to set aside the SCA ruling, which it maintained exposed it to being successfully sued by communities even in relation to load shedding. The utility said that it implemented load shedding in the interests of the national grid, and thereby society at large. It held, too, that it had nothing to do with supply problems in municipalities ravaged by weak infrastructure and illegal connections. The associations’ victory in the SCA meant Eskom was compelled to supply to the communities an amount of power above what was stipulated in the electricity supply agreements it had with municipalities.

Eskom argued the municipalities not only owed it millions of rands, but their infrastructure was not up to the standard required to handle increased power supply. The Cape Argus report says Advocate Sydwell Shangisa SC, representing Eskom, submitted that the utility’s constitutional mandate and supply issues at municipal level should be viewed separately. While Eskom met its obligations, residents should not place municipal-level supply problems at its doorstep, he argued. ‘There is of course a statutory duty on the part of Eskom to provide universal electrification in the Republic. It complies with that duty to the extent that it continues in this matter to supply both municipalities with electricity,’ said Shangisa. ‘Now, the structural and institutional problems experienced by the municipalities, with respect, cannot be placed at the doorstep of Eskom. It is in that respect, we submit, that the regulator ought to play a role insofar as there are aggrieved parties whose rights are being infringed upon by the municipalities.’ Shangisa added: ‘Ideally, if there were no illegal connections or if there were no explosions at the municipalities’ infrastructure and transformers, the residents wouldn’t be unhappy with Eskom. That tells us then that the municipalities are first and foremost responsible for what happens to their network, and the shortfall that is experienced by the residents.’

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