May 29 2015 at 10:00am
By Melanie Gosling, Cape Times
Cape Town – The Cape Town city council has been told to make contingency plans for a national blackout – although it says a total shutdown of the electricity grid is “highly unlikely”.
Part of the contingency plan is to buy backup generators to keep essential services running.
Mayor Patricia de Lille announced in her budget speech on Friday morning that the city had budgeted R245 million to fund the contingency plan, the bulk of which will be spent on generators to keep essential services running.
De Lille said at a pre-budget briefing on Thursday that the city had been told in March by provincial disaster management to make preparations for the “highly unlikely, yet hugely impactful, event of a national blackout”.
While the council did not want to create public panic, it had a responsibility to plan for the possibility of a complete blackout. If this happened, it would last for two weeks.
“We need to plan for a shutdown. There is only a small possibility of this occurring, but the impact will be extremely high. It will affect almost every aspect of life. It is essential for the city to have a contingency plan…. The message is it is highly unlikely, but the impact would be devastating because it would be down for two weeks. That’s the way it was given to us,” De Lille said.
Dave Hugo, the city’s director of infrastructure, said on Thursday a blackout team had been convened with representatives of all the critical service departments. Each department would develop its own plan, which would then be consolidated into an overarching plan.
The team had also obtained input from most of the important agencies in the city, including the port authorities, the airport, Eskom, Metrorail and Prasa.
Apart from generators, one of the crucial needs would be additional two-way radios as it would be essential to keep communication channels functioning during a blackout.
Hugo said sanitation “tops the list” of departments for which electricity is essential.
“We have over 300 sewerage pump stations. Water is a close second… although it runs on pressure, there are areas that would lose water in higher-lying areas. Solid waste, the health department and disaster management, those are the key ones, and transport,” Hugo said.
Asked if the city was planning to stockpile diesel, given that a national electricity blackout was likely to see a huge spike in diesel demand to fuel generators, Hugo said the Chevron refinery would be key in this regard.
“We will be looking at stockpiling, but we’ve got to assess our bulk storage capacity.”
James-Brent Styan, spokesman for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell, confirmed on Thursday that the National Disaster Management Centre, with Eskom, had asked provinces to develop contingency plans for “a range of electricity-related emergencies” from a severe system constraints to a national blackout.
“We have been informed by Eskom that there is a low risk of a national blackout, but we believe it would be irresponsible not to plan for all possible contingencies. The impact of a blackout, should one occur, will be severe, especially among vulnerable and poor communities.
“We believe the province should plan for this. Accordingly the Western Cape is planning for the possibility of a blackout, the same way the province plans for other severe incidents like possible earthquakes, floods and storm surges, as we are required to do by law,” he said.
A provincial government task team has been set up which has been working across the Western Cape to ensure readiness for a blackout.