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Eskom coal supply hit by heavy rains

Medupi “’ a South African
power station nearing
Johannesburg, South Africa — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 06 January 2011 – South African state-run electricity supplier Eskom Holdings Limited says heavy rain has reduced the amount and quality of coal supplied to four to five of its plants, curbing the company’s ability to generate power.

“Some units are not generating power as efficiently as they should be, while handling and burning the wet coal is difficult,” Eskom spokesperson Hilary Joffe said by phone from here.

Bloomberg News reports that South Africa “’ dependent on Eskom for about 95% of its power needs “’ already faces tight power supply as the utility struggles to fund the expansion needed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 blackouts. Coal shortages and rain contributed to the power failures that year, temporarily shutting some of the world’s largest platinum mines.

Anglo American plc, one of Eskom’s largest coal suppliers, said by e-mail that its Kriel colliery had been worst affected by the rains. Another supplier, Exxaro Resources Limited declined to comment, and BHP Billiton Limited and Xstrata plc were unable to comment immediately.

There have been warnings of floods in the Orange River area today as rain uprooted trees and submerged bridges. The biggest dam in the country, the Gariep dam, is at 110% of “full” levels, and the second-biggest, Vanderkloof dam, is at 106%, the Water Department’s website shows.

Many of Eskom’s 27 mostly coal-fired electricity plants are undergoing maintenance. The utility undertakes most of this work during the summer months, when demand is lower. It also suspended a large nuclear power unit at its Koeberg plant last month to replace a defective fuel rod.

“We are managing the system very actively,” Joffe said. “We’re addressing the coal handling and coal quality problems,” she said, adding that stockpiles of the fuel are at an average of 41 days.

Eskom CEO Brian Dames is due to brief media on electricity supply later today.