Eskom has been given the green light to pursue up to R60bn in clawback tariffs.
On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court dismissed an application to set aside the power utility’s regulatory clearing account (RCA) adjustments, clearing the way for Eskom to recover a potential R60bn through tariffs in the next year.
RCA adjustments deal with funds that Eskom needs to recover due to a shortfall in electricity losses or a escalation in operating costs, through possible tariff hikes.
The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) will now hold hearings as Eskom argues why it should be granted the delayed tariff hikes.
However, Eskom has also Eskom is considering paying its employees a R150-million “winter challenge” bonus for avoiding power cuts, The Sunday Times reports.
The submission comes a month after the power utility reportedly paid R4.2-billion in performance bonuses to staff, and two months after public enterprises minister Lynne Brown approved bonuses totaling R13-million for its executives, including former CEO Brian Molefe, former chief financial officer Anoj Singh and suspended acting CEO Matshela Koko.
“I cannot think of any reason to pay bonuses to Eskom employees for doing their job: keeping the lights on,” said Brown.
“And particularly not in the current economic environment. It is an operational matter and therefore not the shareholders’ call, but I would like to believe Eskom’s interim leadership will take prudent financial decisions.”
Added to the no load-shedding requirement is that there can be no fatalities and no environmental contraventions.
An Eskom HR executive has indicated that the bonuses would be spread across the company and not limited to generation staff. Should the proposal be approved, Eskom would then pay an amount of R149.8 million to be shared among 47,053 employees.
Last year the Pretoria high court ruled that Eskom’s RCA adjustments were “irrational, unfair and unlawful”. This came after a four year court battle which set aside aside Nersa’s R11.2bn RCA award for Eskom’s 2013/14 financial year.
The battle started back in 2013, when companies from the Eastern Cape, led by alloy manufacturers Borbet SA, lodged an application against the RCA.
The court case prevented Eskom from processing future RCA submissions, which meant that RCAs for the 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years were put on ice until the court case ended. While the companies initially triumphed in the Pretoria high court, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) reversed the ruling and ultimately the Constitutional Court dismissed the application by Borbet SA and others for leave to appeal the SCA decision.
The ruling on Tuesday means that the 2013/2014 RCA tariff adjustment remains applicable and that Nersa will now have to process the three period applications of Eskom’s RCA adjustments. The SCA judgment will stand as the final word on the matter.
Eskom has applied to Nersa for a R19bn clawback for 2014/15, and a R22bn for the 2015/2016. The 2016/2017 application is not yet public, but is reported to be R20bn. This all adds up to R61bn that Eskom will try to recover, possibly over one year, energy analyst Chris Yelland said.
He said Eskom sales only amounted to R180bn and the R60bn will try to cover the shortfall.
“In order to recover this money, it would need to increase tariffs by 33%,” Yelland explained. “That is what Eskom will ask for at Nersa, this is not to say that they will get it.”
In addition, Eskom’s leaked, latest Nersa application asks for a 20% hike, which is apart from the possible 33% they are likely to ask for in the RCA adjustment, which could potentially bring the overall tariff hike up to 53%, Yelland explained.
“Even if they get half of that, it will put immense pressure on consumers,” he said. “The ruling certainly has heralded interesting times.”
Eskom’s plummeting electricity sales and increasing tariffs mean that the power utility will be selling even less power in future, Yelland said. “Eskom is in a utility death spiral.”
Eskom said the court’s ruling affirmed Nersa’s decision to allow Eskom’s application for a tariff adjustment .
This means that Eskom is not barred from making future RCA applications for electricity price adjustments to Nersa, the state utility said.
“The ruling also clears the path for Nersa to process Eskom’s RCA submissions for the 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 financial years.”
After losing the first round, Nersa and and Eskom approached the SCA to set aside the High Court ruling, and won the case. In July the companies then took their case to the Constitutional Court, which on Tuesday dismissed the case.
The Constitutional Court dismissed Borbet’s application on the basis that the application “bears no prospects of success”.