Bitter evidence of coal, diesel corruption

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Terry Mackenzie-hoy

So, State-owned utility Eskom says it spent R140-million in March 2019 on diesel fuel for Ankerlig and Gourikwa gas turbine generation.

Assuming that 70% of the diesel was used by Ankerlig, in the Western Cape, and that the diesel comes from the Astroenergy refinery (formerly Chevron), in Cape Town, we can calculate the following: (a) a diesel fuel tanker has a top capacity of about 40 000 ℓ, (b) burning diesel gives 4.2 kWh for every litre, and (c) diesel costs Eskom about R10/ℓ. Thus, to spend R140-million, you would burn R140-million worth of diesel, which, when divided by the R10 that each litre costs, equals 14-million litres in 30 days in March. You would need 350 tankers to deliver this quantity of diesel, which, at 20 tankers a day, would mean there would be a traffic jam from Atlantis to the refinery for most of March. Just didn’t happen, bru.

Moving right along to the Majuba power station: we all saw the photo of the coal trucks stretching from Majuba over the hill and far away. Why? Simple – what the photo shows is the raw evidence of how the Majuba coal stocks were adulterated for over two years by Eskom accepting substandard coal. The huge queue is a delivery of good coal to replace the bad stuff. ‘Bad’ coal has a low calorific value and a high ash content. If you burn it in a boiler, it supplies reduced energy, and reduced boiler output. If you up the feed rate, then the ash coats the boiler tubes and they suffer a severe temperature change and the boiler blows up, as per the Duvha power station and the Lethabo power station.

The power stations ended up with substandard coal because of Eskom agreements with collieries such as Tegeta’s Optimum and Brakfontein collieries to supply coal without a sample combustion test. Who knows what happens to the good-quality coal, but the short answer is that Eskom has to have load- shedding, not because the utility does not have enough capacity but because the fuel supply is compromised. So, it produces statements to the effect that the “coal is wet”.

Listen, my bra, you can store coal under water and feed it straight into a boiler, no problem. The boiler combustion temperature is such that it will burn just about anything, damp or not. I mean, seriously? Vat vas happenink ven Eskum ask Steinmuller to build zer boiler? Did they say, hey, ve don’t expect zis zing to wurk if zer coal iz a bit damp? Oh, go on.

One big elephant in the room is that, clearly, the people who are stealing the fuel money are so stupid that they think they will not be caught and prosecuted. They seem to have faith that the corrupt system will persist and remain prosecution free or, more likely, that they can do wrong and will have enough money to pay for a legal defence, which will get them off the hook. Dream on, buddy. When government is footing the legal bill, all well and good. Prosecute on, McDuff. But when you are paying, you will find that lawyers charge like wounded buffalos. They can chomp through millions like a swarm of locusts in a corn field. And, when you run out of dosh, they withdraw like jackals frightened off a rotting kill. Totsiens.

In the interim, government and Eskom are quite okay with the fact that they have, for political reasons, appointed and keep in power persons who are way incompetent at best and crooks at worst.

It was not always so. When I was a senior engineer for operations for Eskom Eastern Cape, we lived in fear and dread that, by some poor decision, we would cause the power system to shut down. This was in the late 1980s. The current situation was unimaginable, like some poor novel. Which, now, is real and true.

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