Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Swartkops Power Station

The Swartkops Power Station next to the Swartkops River is one of those landmarks that has become part of the city scape over the years yet I don't think a lot of people know much about it.  So in case you don't know its story, here goes.
 
The provision of electricity in Port Elizabeth begun in 1906 with the establishment of the Electricity Works.  This supplied fifteen private consumers and thirty street lamps with electricity.  As industry in the area grew and the volume of exports from the Karoo and Uitenhage areas increased, so Port Elizabeth found itself battling to cope.  Its distance from the Eskom network and the load centres in the north suggested to the Council that they should construct their own power station.  Permission for this was granted and the Mount Road Power Station was in operation by 1925.
 
The demand for electricity grew even more rapidly.   In the latter part of the 1940s, the Port Elizabeth Municipality turned to Eskom for assistance and by 1949 it was decided that Eskom would establish a power station in the area to assist the municipal supply.  The plans were that the power station would be built in the Swartkops area of Port Elizabeth, drawing its water supply from the river of the same name.
 
Although Eskom built the power station, the Port Elizabeth Municipality offered to purchase it making Swartkops the only time Eskom has ever sold one of its power stations.  The Swartkops Power Station commenced operation on Saturday, 1 May 1954 with the Mount Road Power Station kept available until November just in case something went wrong in the early stages. 
 
By the mid-1980s Eskom had more than enough power available to adequately service the whole country.  Due to South Africa's political isolation the economic growth slowed and consequently Swartkops was deemed to be unnecessary and taken out of regular operation in 1986.
 
By 1995 Swartkops was called back to service with the operation helping the city to limit its demand on Eskom.  The following year however, saw Eskom offered the Municipality a tariff structure that made the power station, by now 42 years old, uneconomical.  Today the buildings stands empty after being sold to a private company by the municipality for less than R4-million and who, "within weeks" sold off the turbines for a profit of more than R30-million, according to well-placed sources within the municipality. 
 
There are no immediate plans for the station as far as I can gather and how long it will still form part of the PE landscape one can only guess.

4 comments:

  1. I really wanted to place a 5/5 geocache at the top of one of those smoke stacks before we left PE. I leave that challenge with you :-).

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    1. Of course it's a 5/5 because part of the challenge is figuring out which stack the cache is on...

      PS. Thanks for the history of the plant.

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  2. Very interesting. I was born in Zwartkops ( later renamed Swartkops) on 7th March 1940.
    Lived there for almost 17 years.
    Thanks for power station article. Stanley du Plessis

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  3. I served part of my electrical apprenticeship as a maintenance electrician at Swartkops power station in 1965,,,also served time at the Mount road power station in 1966

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