Lack of kiosk maintenance causes concern

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GK CRONJE

11 January 2022

NERSA requires mini-substations to be free of rust, and be locked as to be of no safety risk to the public. It is also expected by NERSA that municipalities keep substations and mini-substations painted, numbered and marked correctly, and that hazard signs be clearly displayed.

Despite several enquiries and reports regarding the issue from various media outlets, little to no information is available as to the action plan that Msukaligwa Local Municipality’s (MLM) departments are taking in waterproofing, safeguarding and maintaining the electrical kiosks and substations in Ermelo, Wesselton and the surrounding areas. The slightest moisture, drizzle or rain results in leaving hundreds of residents without electricity at any given time. Being a major inconvenience and that equipment and devices are damaged in the resulting electricity spikes, this is an issue which addressing is long overdue. Additionally, the sharp increase in wilful vandalism and alleged sabotage from unknown entities further aggravate the situation. In the latest of a string of instances of kiosk vandalism, neutral electrical wires were cut at a kiosk in George Botha Park.

This act in itself is extremely dangerous, and can be the cause of thousands of Rands in damages to residents receiving electricity from this feed. When a neutral wire is broken, cut or disconnected, the unbalanced current cannot return to the supply through the star point, and this current takes the path back to the supply through the lines. This causes “hot” voltage or unequal voltage currents. An instance such as this has been reported recently in the area of Camden Avenue, where the supply current was measured at 380 volt, shockingly higher than the 220 volt that is supposed to be measured. When the voltage is too high, electrical wires may melt, light bulb would burned out real time, and other electrical devices may stop working, or may even burst into flames if an overvoltage is delivered to the circuit. However, the ease of which kiosks and substations in Ermelo can be tampered with is nothing short of laughable, with the vast majority of electrical kiosks being without doors, lids or covers. Nary a kiosk is locked with a padlock as required by law, and many kiosks are completely devoid of cover doors. Several instances have been reported to MLM, where their own technicians have jerry-rigged kiosks or substations in unsafe and dangerous manners.

However, these reports have fallen on deaf ears. By now, it is no secret that MLM officials, as well as ward councillors are well aware of the myriad of electrical kiosks and substations which are without doors, have been severely damaged, either my accidents, vandalism or plain neglect on part of MLM, which carries direct correlation in the outages that plague Ermelo. The municipality has appealed to the public to report any suspicious persons near electrical infrastructures, and has stated that municipal employees are identified by overalls and reflector vest with the logo, and/or the name of the municipality. This statement from the municipality is contradictory, as many contractors employed by the municipality drive unmarked vehicles, and wear civilian clothing. This makes the point moot, aggravated by the fact that the call centre operators are all but a zero with regards to public assistance. According to the standards set forth by the National Energy Regulator (NERSA), any municipality, at any given time must, upon inspection, be able to provide a safe and reliable electrical network, that does not pose a hazard to personnel, especially during switching. It is expected of municipalities to provide evidence to NERSA of preventative maintenance on substations. Substations are expected to be built on well-constructed plinths to avoid contact with moisture, or minimize damage during flooding or heavy rain, and also be free of vegetation and/or grass that might pose a fire hazard.

This is not the case of some of the substations in Ermelo, which are on ground level and covered in vegetation. Furthermore, NERSA requires mini-substations to be free of rust, and be locked as to be of no safety risk to the public. It is also expected by NERSA that municipalities keep substations and mini-substations painted, numbered and marked correctly, and that hazard signs be clearly displayed. Alas, this is not the case in Ermelo, with no bright light in the municipal tunnel ahead.

An electrical kiosk in Steynberg Street has been reported to the municipality on numerous occasions, with no joy. The high voltage cable has been haphazardly connected and snaked through a tree’s branches by municipal teams more than two years ago. The cable poses a direct danger to small children of the nearby preschool, as well as to pedestrians and patrons of a nearby superette. This is but one of hundreds of exposed and dangerous kiosks with the municipal service area.