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Installation of generators — what you need to know

GENERATORS: DO’S AND DONT’S

One complaint that we all have in common nowadays is load shedding. On a daily basis you will find people conversing on the issues of Eskom and load shedding. Load shedding has created an entire new market for privately owned generators. Recent statistics indicate a major increase in the demand for and sale of standby generators. This article’s intention is to draw the consumer’s attention to rules and regulations regarding the use of these generators. Rules and regulations are found in national legislation as well as municipal bylaws. There are two main focus areas namely procedures regarding installation and the issue of nuisance.

PROCEDURES REGARDING INSTALLATION

Let us start with the installation of generators. It is important in this regard to distinguish between backup generators and standby generators. Backup generators run independently from the electrical system of your household. Strictly speaking there is no installation involved as the generator is not connected to your household’s existing electrical structure in any way. When the power goes out, the generator needs to be started up manually and plugged into the selected appliances that the consumer would like to use. Standby generators, on the other hand, are installed directly to your house’s electrical system, in other words the main electricity board, and automatically kick in when the power goes out by means of a transfer switch. This installation would need to be done by a professional person such as an electrician.

It is important to note that different municipalities might have different rules. The Western Cape rules regulating installation are contained in the Cape Town bylaws. These bylaws came into effect on 16 April 2010. In short, the bylaws regulate how a service provider (Eskom) supplies electricity to households and what changes can be made to the supplied electrical installation. The word “installation” refers to any alteration or tampering with a household’s existing electrical structure. Note that backup generators do not affect a household’s existing electrical structure and therefore the provisions in the bylaws do not extend to these generators.

Section 39 of the bylaws specifically deals with a consumer’s electricity generation equipment. Take note that this provision only applies to standby generators for the reason explained above. S39(1) states that where a consumer connects electricity generation equipment, which includes a generator, to “any installation” for the purpose of his own operational requirements, he will need prior written consent from the Director of Eskom.

Obtaining the Director’s Prior Written Consent  

S39(2) states that an application must be made in writing. The application must include a “full specification” of the generator and a wiring diagram.

Other Rules Pertaining Hereto

S39(3) requires that the generator be so designed and installed that it is impossible for Eskom’s supply mains to be energized by means of a back-feed from the generator. “Backfeeding” occurs where electricity flows in the opposite direction from its usual flow. This simply means that the generator should not induce power into the local power grid of Eskom. S39(4) further requires that the generator does not interfere with Eskom’s supply mains and also that the generator be installed entirely on the consumer’s premises. S39(5) requires that a consumer obtain a Certificate of Compliance for the installation work carried out. S39(6) makes provision for a special agreement between the consumer and Eskom whereby the generator is permitted to be electrically coupled to, and run in parallel with Eskom’s supply mains. The consumer will however be responsible for the costs involved for installation and maintenance.

What is important from these provisions is that a consumer is allowed to install a generator if he has obtained written consent from the Director. He will have to cover all the costs involved in installation and would need to provide the Director with the requisite Certificate of Compliance.

Consequences of Non-Adherence to the Rules

Section 26(1) of the bylaws prohibits any person from interfering with Eskom’s supply mains. S26(2) authorises Eskom to disconnect that person’s electricity supply if there is sufficient evidence that can prove interference. The consumer will also be liable for any damage that may result from such interference.

Lastly, in terms of Section 60 neither Eskom nor the local municipality will be held responsible for the work done by an electrical contractor on a consumer’s premises.

THE ISSUE OF NOISE NUISANCE

Those who own generators will know that it produces quite a loud noise. Above what decibel (dB) level will the noise emitted from it be regarded as a “nuisance”?

The applicable rules come from the Noise Control Regulations that came into operation on 20 June 2013. These Regulations were made in terms of s25 of the Environment Conservation Act 73, 1989.

Section 2 of the Regulations prohibits a “disturbing noise”. A “disturbing noise” is defined in the Regulations as “a noise, excluding the unamplified human voice, which exceeds the rating level by 7 dBA”. The “rating level” is defined as the “applicable outdoor equivalent continuous rating level indicated in the South African National Standards (“SANS”) 10103”. The table below indicates the Equivalent Continuous Rating Level in different districts:

Type of District Equivalent Continuous Rating Level for Noise (dBA)
Outdoors Indoors (with windows open)
Day-Night Daytime Night time Day-Night Daytime Night time
a)    Rural 45 45 35 35 35 25
b)    Suburban 50 50 40 40 40 30
c)    Urban 55 55 45 45 45 35
d)    Urban (with one or more of the following: workshops; business premises; main roads) 60 60 50 50 50 40
e)    Central business districts 65 65 55 55 55 45
f)     Industrial Districts 70 70 60 60 60 50

For example, if you live in a suburban area, the Equivalent Continuous Rating Level during the daytime is 50 dBA. Therefore your generator is allowed to produce 57 dBA of noise. However, if it exceeds that amount, it will be regarded as a disturbing noise – which is prohibited.

The level of dBA that a generator produces depends on its generating capacity. The generating capacity is measured by kVA which stands for a 1000 volt amps. For example, a 1 kVA generator produces between 54-59 dBA; 2.3 kVA generator produces between 58-65 dBA; a 4.5 kVA generator produces about 72 dBA; and a 7.5 kVA generator produces about 76 dBA. From these figures it can already be seen that the dBA levels exceeds that which is legally permitted.

Exemption from the Regulations

Section 12 of the Regulations allows a local municipality to exempt any person or venue from any provision in the Regulations either on its own initiative or on application by any consumer. An applicant will have to provide good reasons for the application.

Consequences for Non-Compliance of Regulations

Section 13 of the Regulations states that non-compliance of the Regulations results in an offence which is punishable either by way of a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years.

As a concluding remark, consumers have to take into account the interests of their neighbours when using their generators. Always keep them in mind. If not, they can easily lay a compliant which could have severe consequences for you.

For assistance or more information please contact:

Basil de Sousa or Shano Macris

Litigation Department, Abrahams & Gross Attorneys

T:     021 422 1323       E:    info@abgross.co.za

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