THE developers of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope, one of the country's highest power consuming projects, have come out in support of Eskom's proposed tariff hikes.
Eskom has applied to the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) for annual tariff increases of 16% over the next five years.
The proposal has received staunch opposition from businesses, trade unions and civil society.
Nersa started public hearings on Eskom's application last week.
But the Department of Science and Technology, which the SKA falls under, said: "Although electricity will be a significant operational cost driver, the Department of Science and Technology and SKA Office feel that the proposed tariff increases are in line with expectations, and would still enable South Africa to deliver an operationally cost-efficient facility.
"As part of the detailed planning and design of the infrastructure required to host the SKA... conservative projections of energy tariff escalations over the construction and operational phase of the SKA were considered."
The department said the project was entering a pre-construction phase "where detailed, costed designs will be developed, as well as during which the relevant agreements between the host countries and the international SKA Organisation are put in place".
The SKA, the biggest telescope in the world, is hosted by South Africa and Australia. South Africa has already installed seven dishes at the SKA site in the Karoo, to form part of the KAT7 telescope, and will add 64 more to form the MeerKAT array, an SKA precursor.
The project's biggest "running cost" would be electricity, team leader Dr Bennie Faranoff has said.
The 300-dish radio telescope will cost R27.9-billion.
The Nersa public hearings will end on Thursday.