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Friday May 27, 2011

Joburg load shedding outrage

As Joburg feels the first bitter bite of winter today, residents are all fired up over proposed electricity load-shedding schedules posted on the City Power website - warning of rolling blackouts as often as four nights a week.

The frenzy was triggered by a mass e-mail campaign sparked by the updating of load-shedding schedules by Eskom and City Power. However, both the power utility and the city were quick to deny today that they were preparing for rolling blackouts.

Joburg residents were seemingly unconvinced.

Across the media this morning, residents from around the city have been raging about the load-shedding plan posted on the website.

Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe said today that concern had spread across the city after a mass e-mail campaign that alerted people to the potential load shedding.

City Power's Louis Pieterse said the schedule, which was posted on the website about three weeks ago, was only meant to inform the public in case there was a "massive national shortage".

"There are no plans for any rolling blackouts ... especially if we go by what happened last year," said Pieterse, referring to the fact that there was no load shedding in 2010.

However, Pieterse did say that should load shedding be necessary, the only warning would be the schedules, which confirm the areas that would be targeted at particular times.

He also warned that there were capacity challenges on all of the electricity networks and called on Joburg residents to be energy conscious.

The updated schedule comes as Joburg residents are facing the first real cold spell of winter, with electricity consumption expected to start peaking in the next few weeks.

According to Joffe, on average the city requires 32 000 kilowatts of electricity to function, but as the temperatures drop and residents arrive home from work, the consumption jumps to 35 000kW.

Between 6pm and 7pm is the absolute peak during winter, when people put on lights, cook their meals, bath their children and turn on their heaters.

"We are very keen not to go back to disruptive load shedding," said Joffe.

Certain areas around the city, particularly in the north, appear to be harder hit with schedules that will leave them in the dark as those residents come home from work.

People posting on a load-shedding forum were already complaining about the discrepancies.

One woman compared her suburb, Randpark Ridge, with another area, Rabie Ridge. Randpark Ridge would be cut off on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 6pm to 10pm, while Rabie Ridge would have blackouts only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10am until 2pm.

"(Rabie Ridge) are cut 3 days a week, weekdays only and while they're at work. Sorry, but I am spitting mad now!!!" she said.

Other users expressed distrust of power services, believing that load shedding would happen no matter what Eskom said.

"They are lying, I received an SMS today reading as follows: 'Eskom Ref 49810836 planned outage on 01/06/2011 09:30 - 23:30'. A power outage of 14 hours (are we on the same page?)," said one disgruntled blogger.

Others felt the timing was convenient. "Excellent timing, just after the elections," said user Luxe of the Load Shedding 2011 forums.

Many also expressed anger that there might be power outages just when electricity rates have been raised by 25 percent this year, while there were still many illegal connections putting strain on the grid.

Eskom's recent public service announcements have called on Joburgers to become more energy efficient, asking people to shut off their geysers in the evening, switch off unnecessary lights and appliances, and even that households hold off on cooking their meals until after 7pm.

The Star

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