Electricity price hikes: Eskom’s history

The disastrous 2008 power outages in Gauteng and the recent announcements of shocking electricity price hikes, (45% for the next 3 years), bring into focus yet again the political nature of electrical power. There has long been a contest and tussle between municipal power supply and national power supply. The city of Johannesburg historically generated its power from various city power stations: 2 power stations in Newtown, President St 1907 and Jeppe St 1927 -1934;  Orlando power station was completed in 1942 and 2 more stations in Kelvin followed in the 1950s. However, the city power stations were not the only providers of power to Johannesburg.  The mines, from their earliest days in the late 19th century, had contracted out their own power supply, initially to a great number of companies. In 1910 all these companies had been bought by the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company (VFP). This company supplied not only the mines, but also areas outside of Johannesburg. Post WWI, increasing industrialization led to the need to electrify the railways. This in turn led to the Electrical Act of 1922 under which the Electricity Supply Commission (Eskom) was established. From this point on, all proposals for new power stations had to be submitted to Eskom and there was an increasing move towards state control of a national grid-based power supply. In 1948 (the year the Nationalist Government came to power) the VFP was bought by Eskom. By the early 1970s Eskom, through refusing permission for new power stations, began to force the City to buy its power and accept being part of the national grid. We are now in a situation where Eskom sells power to City Power, who in turn sell it on to the consumer. With a planned 45% hike from Eskom every year, ironically the light at the end of the tunnel has become extremely expensive.

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