South Africa’s wind industry is taking legal advice over plans by state utility Eskom to cut offtake from 2GW of operating wind farms amid a downturn in demand during the coronavirus crisis.

The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) questioned Eskom’s claim that the lower demand amounts to a Force Majeure event, and said the 22 wind farms in question had no notice of the measures.

The utility justified plans to cut the power it takes from wind farms by citing a sharp downturn in consumption amid South Africa’s lockdown, as commercial and industrial users ramp down their operations.

But SAWEA said Eskom had written to IPPs operating the projects as recently as 25 March confirming that operating facilities count as “essential services”.

Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of SAWEA, said: “It is concerning that wind energy power producers have not been given an opportunity to engage on this matter with Eskom, despite both Eskom and Government confirming that operational IPP’s are in fact an essential service, just five days ago.

“The industry will be approaching Eskom with a view to finding a constructive resolution that does not prejudice the country nor the power producers.”

The wind body said it will be taking legal advice over the matter. It said in a statement: “Some experts deem reduced demand as a normal system event, which would therefore not imply a Force Majeure event.

“Additionally, experts raise the point that South Africa is in actual fact not currently facing a structural oversupply and the fact that Eskom is still struggling to keep the system stable, despite shift in demand patterns.”

With its shaky finances and ongoing reliance on coal, dealing with Eskom has proved a challenge to the South African renewables sector for years.