Winter power cuts will threaten poultry production

South Africa’s poultry industry, along with every other business in the country will be watching with some trepidation the forecasts for the intensity of power cuts they might experience this coming winter.

Winter, peaking in July, is when electricity demand is at its highest, putting further strain on Eskom, the country’s struggling power utility. The utility has told its customers to expect power cuts for the next two years as it tries to get its coal-fired power stations into reasonable running order.

With continuing power cuts a certainty, the question for businesses is the frequency and, crucially, the duration of the outages. The power cuts, known as load shedding, are implemented in stages and have frequently been between stages 2 and 4, with outages totalling between four and six hours a day.

The recent imposition of stage 6 load shedding, with outages totalling 10 hours and more a day caused havoc for production lines, including the round-the-clock operations of the major poultry producers.

The country’s new electricity minister, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, says he does not expect power cuts to go beyond stage 6 this winter. That means a return to stage 6 is a distinct possibility. However, private sector experts think it could get worse than that.

In January Peter Attard Montalto, head of the Intellidex consultancy, correctly predicted that stage 6 was coming and forecast stage 7 or worse from July.

And this week energy expert Clyde Mallinson said that, in a worst case scenario, the country could could suffer stage 11 outages this winter. Otherwise, he expected an average of stage 4 cuts between April and September, with a maximum of stage 6 in June, in line with the electricity minister’s assurances.

The SA poultry industry’s Izaak Breitenbach said in a radio interview that the industry could manage with stage 2 cuts, and even stage 4, but stage 6 outages caused real problems and could threaten food security.

Poultry producers slaughter 19 million chickens a week to feed the nation. Chicken is the country’s cheapest meat, and accounts for 66% of meat consumption.

And, as Eskom and all its customers know, winter is coming.