Eskom sheds light on future intentions

annual report 2011/12

Eskom, whilst it may have some problems, is in a very healthy position and has electrified more than 155,000 homes this year.  It has, as promised, “kept the lights on” in South Africa but would fail in its New Build programme unless it had the backing of government financial support.

This was stated to the public enterprises portfolio committee in Parliament by CEO Brian Dames when presenting to Parliament the Eskom 2011/2 annual report figures in a presentation to back up the published annual report and financial statements.

He said that any funding issues had been resolved, particularly as far as funding for future projects was concerned, as had labour problems at Medupi power station building site.

Dames said that although sales had increased only by a marginal 0,2%, the increase in tariff allowed had resulted in revenue growing from R91.4bn in 2010-11 to R114.7bn in 2011-12.        Since March, there had actually been a decline in sales, reflecting the impact which the world recession was having on the South African economy.

Profit amounted to R13.248bn, giving a 3,7% return on average total assets, mainly as a result of NERSA having approved a 16% increase, providing therefore an economic benefit of R11bn this year to the country’s coffers.

Paul O’Flaherty, financial director, compared the final results to NERSA’s targets for 2011/12.   NERSA had estimated a higher operating profit than eventually emerged. The lesser figure came about because of a reduction in sales due to a depressed economy but with cost savings of over R4bn, a net profit figure of R13.25bn was finally reflected in the figures which exceeded NERSA’s expectations.

O’Flaherty, however, gave some warning signals for the coming year as far as the consumer was concerned, bearing in mind that the utility had originally applied to NERSA for a 29% hike in tariffs in order to fund its power generating programme over what was then a shorter period.

He told committee members that as coal were such a large proportion of Eskom’s costs and with coal prices being unpredictable, inputs at their coal fired power generating stations could easily rise above the rate of inflation and in such as case the consumer would have to bear the brunt.

As things stood, coal costs had gone up by 29% during the year. He also said that Eskom had finally negotiated an increase of 8,1% for the workforce and this would add to input costs throughout the group.

Brian Dames said that a major issue in the coming year was to convert coal deliveries from road to rail as far as this was possible and Eskom had set a target last year earlier to move 8,2m tons by rail. So far, Eskom was looking at a figure of 8,5m tons having been achieved. This was encouraging, he said.

Dames told parliamentarians that the special tariffs enjoyed by BHP Billiton for their aluminium-smelter, originally set when Eskom had excess capacity were currently under negotiation.      Eskom had also recently been able to renegotiate more favourable contracts with zinc plants in Namibia who had until now enjoyed tariffs below cost of production.

He warned that as tariffs inevitably increased, such would be translated into debt problems, particularly at municipal level. Already it was a challenge was to manage the Soweto debt, which stood about R4.5bn at the end of the last financial year.

Dames said that NERSA had agreed, as part of recent talks, that Eskom would be allowed price increases in the future and would also be allowed to revalue its assets to allow for a higher level of depreciation. The cost of replacing Eskom’s assets today would be R500bn, compared to the historical cost of R290bn but as its debt grew, so would its financing costs.

Eskom’s rating with government support was “BBB+” and without government backing its rating would be lower. This was not a possible scenario, he said, for the country or Eskom.

Eskom’s build programme would continue as planned, the committee was told, which would deliver an additional 11 256MW by the time the Kusile coal fired power station came on stream in 2019. What would happen after that, Dames said, depended entirely on the integrated resource plan (IRP) being drawn up by the department of energy (DOE) in discussion with stakeholders.

Both DOE and Eskom are locked into investigative debate on the financial prospects for Eskom should it be stripped of the national transmission grid in order that independent power producers may enter the energy supply chain, all regulated by the presently halted ISMO Bill. Such matters directly affect the IRP and all future consequences in energy planning.

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