“Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer says ‘turnaround ship’ needs realistic expectations”

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There needed to be realistic expectations for the speed at which Eskom’s management would be able to “turn around the ship”, Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said on Tuesday after announcing the resignation of the state power company’s acting head of generation, Rhulani Mathebula, on Tuesday.

Mathebula’s abrupt departure comes just six months after his predecessor, Phillip Dukashe, left the company.

Why did Mathebula resign as CEO of Eskom?

Oberholzer said turning around the generation business was “extremely demanding”.

Addressing the media on Tuesday, he said Mathebula informed the company the demands of the job had become unbearable and were affecting his health and family. Dukashe, who left the company after 26 years, also cited “the critical need to achieve a balance for the benefit of his health, family and work responsibilities”, in his resignation letter.

Eskom, which produces about four-fifths of the country’s power, has now suffered at least five high-level resignations in 2022 while battling to improve the performance of its generation fleet during SA’s worst year of load-shedding to date.

Oberholzer emphasised the need for “better understanding” of the situation Eskom was faced with, adding that fixing the poor performance of the generation fleet urgently required the addition of new capacity to the grid to allow for crucial maintenance to be carried out.

Eskom’s power stations are running at an energy availability factor (EAF) of about 58%, which is below the 60% target for the year, and far off the 75% the utility has been challenged to achieve.

Eskom Chair: Getting Coal Fleet Up to 75% EAF Is Urgent

Eskom board chair, Mpho Makwana, told Business Day that one of the most urgent tasks that the new board and Eskom management faced was to get the EAF of the coal-fired fleet up to at least 75%.

Oberholzer said that while Eskom executives “absolutely respect” the new chair’s view that the “we must get back to 75%” he could not comment on when this would be possible.

It must also be understood “that we have lost a lot of skills and experience in this business and getting this back to the level at which we need it to be will take a lot of time.”

The challenge of “finding a lasting group executive” for generation was made worse by the constant criticism Eskom’s executives were subjected to, he said. “Speaking for myself, working 16 hours a day, seven days a week takes a toll on yourself and your family, and when there is no positive reinforcement, it does make it extremely challenging.”

Lethabo power station manager Thomas Conradie has been appointed acting head of generation. Conradie said at the briefing they were hoping to move towards achieving 60% EAF by financial year-end, but will probably “only get to 65% by the latter part of next year”.

Nuclear Officer Resigns After 27 Years

Riedewaan Bakardien, the chief nuclear officer at Koeberg, resigned in July after 27 years of service to take a job at a Canadian nuclear utility in an executive position.

Koeberg also lost its acting GM, Nomawethu Mtwebana, earlier in 2022 after a secondment to the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

Mandy Rambharos, the group’s head of energy transition, left at the end of October to join the Environment Defense Fund, a US-based nonprofit organisation.

OBERHOLZER EMPHASISED THE NEED FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING’