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​City Power pumps millions on power lines

City Power – the City of Johannesburg’s electricity utility – has spent more than R267 million over the past four years to replace low voltage copper overhead power lines (LV Lines) with Aerial Bundle Conductors (ABC) to reduce power outages and curb cable theft, which costs the City several millions of rands every year.

A further R360 million will be invested in this aluminium infrastructure which is less prone to theft over the next three financial years, bringing the total expenditure over a seven-year period to more than R627 million. About R60 million will be spent in the 2015-2016 financial year and another R160 million in the financial year thereafter.

The balance of R140 million will be spent on the project in the 2017-2018 financial year. The decision to replace copper LV Lines was taken during the 90-Day Mayoral Programme in 2011 when, under Executive Mayor Councillor Parks Tau, five projects were identified to improve service delivery. Included in the five projects was the rollout of new electric meters and replacement of the ageing copper LV Lines with the ABC system.

According to Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Environment and Infrastructure Services, Matshidiso Mfikoe, the system was piloted in Chrisville and Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, and Hyde Park and Bramley in the north at a cost of R14.84-million in 2011-2012.

The expenditure was increased to R123.9 million the following year. The budget for the project in 2013-2014 was R78.3 million and R60-million in the current financial year.

“The purpose of this project is to convert the current problematic low voltage distribution system to a more desirable and reliable system in various identified areas. The whole idea is to minimise power outages and prevent infrastructure theft. With copper LV lines, when we experience a lot of wind accompanied by rain, power lines are tripped and we have outages. But with these ABC conductors, we don’t experience that.

"There have been fewer power outages in affected areas since we installed the ABC system. These conductors are made of aluminium encased in tough PVC sheathing and are of less value to the thieves. The conductors have also proved to be much more durable in various environmental conditions and are not prone to theft. Copper LV lines are easy to steal because they comprise bare copper, which does not need to be stripped. In areas where we have installed ABC conductors, which are bigger and difficult to cut, we have far less infrastructure theft,” says MMC Mfikoe.

City Power has prioritised the fight against copper theft through organisations such as the Association of the Municipal Electricity Undertakings of Southern Africa. The power utility has, together with organised business, municipalities and law enforcement agencies, agreed to lobby the Government to classify cable theft as an act of treason.

Last year there were 72 533 reported incidents of copper cable theft. More than 10 736 arrests were made. Cable theft is estimated to cost the economy about R5 billion a year. It was declared a high-priority crime at a recent conference in Midrand.

Other challenges facing City Power are the deterioration of infrastructure due to ageing cables and adverse environmental conditions.

The areas where the ABC system has been installed include Lombardy East, Mayfair, Mayfair West, Crosby, Melville, Westdene, Witpoortjie, Horizon View, Discovery, Bryanston, Turffontein, Ophirton, Kenilworth, Regents Park, Savoy Estate, Glenhazel, Sandringham, Orange Grove, Linksfield, Obsevatory, Jeppestown and Malvern.

At present the new system is being installed in Mondeor, Crown Gardens, Montroux, Darrenwood, Linden, Cresta, Robindale and Blairgowrie.