The highly anticipated official opening of Unit 6 at Eskom’s Medupi power station, in Lephalale took place this weekend.

Speaking at opening on Sunday, President Jacob Zuma said the construction of Medupi is a demonstration that government’s infrastructure plan will change the lives of South Africans in very practical terms.

Life is certainly changing for the better, he said, adding that the new station will provide the electricity capacity needed to grow the economy, attract investment and create jobs.

“The operation of Unit 6 is a demonstration that this project is making progress,” he said. “Its impact is already being felt across SA.”

Limpopo Premier Chupu Mathabatha said Lephalale is developing faster than most towns in the country.

“We are proud as Limpopo that this construction and development is happening in our lifetime.”

Skills development, creating jobs

For South Africans elsewhere, Medupi will mean no more load shedding but, for the people of Lephalale, their relationship with the power plant is a lot more complex – it is about the skills development and creating the much needed jobs.

Many workers, who wished to remain anonymous, said the building of the plant has motivated many young people in the area to pursue studies in engineering so that they can be employed in the plant.

But there are also concerns that once the construction is done – the project won’t be able to absorb many into the labour market and they will instead lose jobs.

Eskom’s acting CEO Brian Molefe said the important thing now is building skills needed in the country like artisans and engineers.

Though there will be job losses in the future, people will be skilled and employable elsewhere.

The project, he said, has placed contractual requirements on its contractors to train approximately 3 000 skills development candidates in various trades and professions, such as boiler making, coded welding and engineering.

“The objective is to have a large number of skilled people who are employable within the Lephalale municipal area during and after the project has been completed,” he said, adding that this project gives the locals skills for life.

Biggest dry-cooled power station

Once completed, Medupi will be powered by 6 x 800MW steam-powered turbines to produce a maximum demand of about 4 800MW of power which is about 12% of South Africa’s power generation.

Massive coal-fired boilers will be used to provide steam for the turbines.

The power plant will also be the biggest dry-cooled power station in the world.

Unit 6 was first synchronised to the national grid on 2 March 2015, and has been able to alleviate pressure on the national electricity system, helping to either avoid load-shedding altogether or minimise its severity.

Its synchronisation, according to Eskom, further boosted South Africa’s electricity supply by an extra 800MW – enough electricity to power a city the size of Bloemfontein.

As such, the country has entered its 22 consecutive day without rolling power cuts.