Eskom halts construction of 4.8 GW Medupi coal plant due to protests

South African power utility Eskom suspended construction at its 4800 MW Medupi power plant due to protests by contract workers.
According to Reuters, work has also been suspended at Eskom's Kusile power plant following protests, which occurred at that site last week.
The utility said, however, the temporary construction halt would not delay its plans to bring new power plants on stream. "The build programme is on track, with the first unit of the new power station scheduled to come on line at the end of 2012," it said in a statement.
Medupi and Kusile are Eskom's two first power plants in more than two decades and are meant to fill a dire supply shortage that threatens economic growth. A near collapse of the national grid in early 2008 cost billions of dollars in lost output.
"The fear from the investors' side is that ... we don't really know when it will end and what needs to be done to end it," said Peter Attard Montalto, an emerging markets analyst at Nomura.
Workers are suspected of lighting vehicles on fire at the Medupi site, protesting what they said was the hiring of foreign workers as welders, said Johannes Musel, chief executive officer at Hitachi Power Africa, one of the contractors at Medupi.
He said the company would be in talks with unions and other contractors to try to resolve the disputes. Foreigners make up a maximum 10 per cent of its workers at the site and were hired due to a local skill shortage, he said.
The protest at Kusile began in sympathy for workers at one of the firms, which was nearing the end of its contract and demobilizing, said Stephen Pell, a spokesman for Kusile Civil Works, a joint venture of contracting companies at the plant.
The protest then turned into a strike over wages. "We are trying to get to the end of it," Pell said.
Talks began on Monday but it was hard to say how long they would go on, he said. A contractors' management forum was, however, already considering letting the striking workers go. Eskom said it closed the two sites as a precautionary measure and would reopen them when it felt the safety of its workers was guaranteed.

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