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Eskom and consumers pay the price

By Gregory Mthembu-Salter in Cape Town
Posted on Monday, 23 November 2009 00:00

The South African energy parastatal Eskom is eyeing three funding sources for its six-year R708bn ($93.8bn) plan to boost production by 17,000 MW: borrowing, government money and higher tariffs. The government approved a R60bn loan in the last budget and guaranteed an additional R176bn of existing and future debt. In addition, Eskom has asked for approval from the energy regulator for three annual 45% price hikes, starting on 1 April 2010. The regulator will make a decision in February. As well as hurting consumers, higher prices are already affecting investment. Rio Tinto announced in October that it would not proceed with a R24bn aluminium smelter at Coega because of rising energy costs.

Eskom claims it can borrow around R40bn a year from the markets. In this, the company differs from most other African energy parastatals, which do not have a sophisticated local capital market to draw on. Take-up of Eskom’s domestic bonds has been strong this year, with about R33bn worth sold by the end of October. The international market is harder to read, but while Eskom has not been helped by a 2008 ratings downgrade, the company is expected to launch an international bond issue sometime in 2010 or 2011. Even if all goes well, most analysts foresee a funding gap of at least R30bn.

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