The December deadline for the commissioning of Medupi power plant in South Africa must be met and the country cannot afford more delays, Malusi Gigaba, South Africa’s minister of public enterprises, said recently.

“Heads will roll if the targets for delivering the project are not met,” he pointed.

A 10-week strike at the station earlier this year sparked fears of a delay in the commissioning date of the first of six units to early next year.

Power from Medupi, set to be the fourth largest coal-fired power station in the world, is expected to reduce some of the pressure on the grid and will be welcomed by smelters in the country.

Hitachi and Alstom, the leading contractors at Medupi who were in the midst of wage disputes with workers and the resultant strikes, gave Eskom written assurances that the hot commissioning in July would not be delayed, Eskom’s ceo Brian Dames said on April 11.

This would give Eskom enough time to synchronise the Medupi unit to the central grid by December.

“We will hold them to that. We will do whatever it takes to ensure this deadline is met,” Dames said.

On April 8, Eskom agreed with labour unions and Medupi contractors to renegotiate the project labour agreement and substitute it with a partnering arrangement, due to be concluded at the end of May.

The new agreement would result in a more consistent application of the labour contracts among all of the subcontractors at the site, Gigaba said, while providing incentives to workers to achieve the project’s targets.

A source close to Eskom said it was widely anticipated, both in the power company and among its consumers, that Medupi's commissioning would be delayed.

“It will be delayed. No one is willing to say it out loud yet because heads will roll for sure,” the source said, adding that South African power consumers have to brace themselves for a “tough, tough” winter ahead with virtually zero spare capacity on the grid.

The source anticipated load shedding during the period.

Bianca Markram