The following few points have been established as the critical priorities in my view, that need to be addressed by the Msunduzi Electricity Unit (EU) to ensure the stability of the networks supplying electricity to the greater Hilton area. The red text are the statements provided by the Msunduzi EU as answers to my questions;
1. Remaining 33kV Supply Cable Upgrade
Under the Capital Budget allocation for the 2021/22 financial year, the SDBIP (Service Delivery Budget Implementation Plan) indicates an amount of ±R28 million set aside for completion of the upgrades to the remaining and final section of the two existing underground 33kV cables (Feeders A & B) installed between Retief S/S, along Victoria Rd to Quarry Rd, where they connect onto two single circuit overhead lines, which were upgraded in 2013.
The questions arising are; when is the scheduled implementation/completion date of this project, bearing in mind that the financial year expires on the 30th June 2022? The last response I received from the Msunduzi EU in October 2021 was that the 33kV cables had been procured but the contract award was still outstanding. Is this still the case, as time is running out?
ANSWER:- The installation of 2 x 630mm2 1-core 33kV aluminium cable circuits between the Retief Substation along Victoria Road to Quarry Rd is in progress, with the expected completion date of 30 June 2022 as previously planned.
On completion, the 33kV network supplying Crossways S/S should comprise a balanced network transfer capability (compatible cable & line ratings) and provide the required redundancy to ensure an uninterruptible primary supply is provided to Crossways S/S should either of the two 33kV feeders (A & B) fail for whatever reason, i.e. obviates the load reduction/rotation scenario we’ve become accustomed to. However, I’m still awaiting feedback from the Msunduzi EU as to what design philosophy was adopted w.r.t. the layup and installation of the 33kV 1-core cables and the mitigation measures taken to alleviate the high cable sheath voltages that can occur within long runs of 1-core cable as these could also pose a serious risk to the overall performance of the primary supply network.
2. Crossways Primary 33/11kV S/S Upgrade
A further Capital Budget allocation included in the current SDBIP indicates an amount of ±R27.6 million set aside for the upgrade of Crossways Primary S/S in the 2022/23 financial year. As this substation is a 50 year old vintage and way past its serviceable life, with continual performance related outages affecting the Hilton consumers almost on a weekly basis due to the age of the plant, many of which highlighted by the numerous faults in the greater Hilton area but particularly in the Winterskloof residential area, being experienced of late. Added to this aging plant aspect, is the antiquated and poor performing protection, continued insulation degradation of plant, etc.
The questions arising are; what is the budget allocation intended to achieve, as the amount indicated appears inadequate for the complete upgrade of this long overdue facility?
Furthermore, if the budget allocation is only for a specific portion of the substation plant, which I believe it is, can the respective budget be influenced further this year to ensure adequate funds are made available for the complete upgrade of this facility in the 2022/23 financial year? I do note that work has been completed at Crossways S/S to replace the indoor 11kV switchboard with a temporary outdoor equivalent, similar to what was done at Retief S/S. Where is this work identified in the current SDBIP, or have funds been made available via a transfer from another capital project?
ANSWER:- The construction of the 11kV outdoor pole arrangement (busbar & feeders) was completed at the end of February 2022 in preparation to replace the obsolete 11kV indoor switchboard with a new equivalent purchased a few years back as part of the Crossways S/S Upgrade. This should go a long way in stabilizing the 11kV feeder source at the substation and forms part of the current 2021/22 Financial Year budget. This current budget also includes the upgrade of the main Crossways to Berry Hill/Dennis Shepstone Drive 11kV feeder right through to Valley Rd and the SI77 switching point in Dennis Shepstone Drive near Sweetwaters. This upgrade includes the replacement of old underrated cables and transformers complete with RMU’s (Ring Main Units) to facilitate easier switching operations/options and greater network flexibility.
The budget process for the 2022/23 FY is still in progress and has not yet been finalized. However, prioritization of projects will include the replacement of various substation plant at Crossways S/S, including the two main 33/11kV 15-MVA power transformers, which are currently operating unfirm, i.e. without the necessary redundancy, but the budget will also include additional upgrades to some of the prioritized 11kV networks.
It needs to be noted that for the past 3-4 financial years, the Municipality has been making funds available to improve the infrastructure of the Hilton area as a sign of acknowledgement and appreciation of the poor state of the infrastructure and will continue to do so, as and when funds become available.
The following final critical and untenable point is one identified through the numerous and almost weekly supply interruptions being experienced by residents in the greater Winterskloof area, and one that I’m still awaiting an answer to from the Msunduzi EU.
3. Vegetation Encroachment and General Reticulation Maintenance
I believe it is critically essential that the necessary maintenance regimen is adopted on a routine basis, again highlighting the Winterskloof area, but should be the approach for all municipal electrical infrastructure. This is imperative to ensure all such electrical plant is clear of encroaching vegetation, irrespective of whether that vegetation is on private property or not. All electrical plant must be visually inspected to ensure satisfactory insulation integrity is maintained, dielectric tests undertaken on oil samples removed from all reticulation transformers, mini-subs, switchgear, etc., earth tests conducted at all transformer points, ensure surge arresters are connected correctly and in working order,
MV and LV fuses installed correctly within their relevant holders and all enclosures securely locked and weatherproofed. The 11kV protection discrimination/grading at Crossways S/S also needs to be investigated as there is a likelihood that this too is not operating optimally either.
I’m convinced that if this approach is observed routinely, a major reduction in the number of outages will result and the performance of the networks improve dramatically. With no disrespect, I believe currently it’s a case of applying “band aids to boils” in trying to keep the lights on with the limited resources available.
By way of a concluding remark, I am of the view that a special Electrical Task Team needs to be established under the auspices of the uMngeni Municipality, reporting direct to the Mayor, to ensure these critical issues and other related matters affecting the supply to Hilton are kept front and centre, in an endeavour to hold the Msunduzi EU accountable by applying the necessary political pressure when needed, such that an acceptable quality of supply is ultimately provided, which the paying consumers in Hilton so rightfully deserve and is long overdue.
Compiled By: Rob Maitland-Stuart
More about Hilton Ratepayers Association