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IPP in soup for causing blackout

Published on: Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kota Kinabalu: An Independent Power Producer's (IPP) decision to shut down its gas turbines for safety reasons caused the massive power failure in Sabah and Labuan on Jan. 17. For doing so, the Ranhill Power Plant now risks a revocation of its licence by the Energy Commission.

However, although the issue affected some 511,611 consumers statewide, SESB is also a victim of circumstances and not a profit-making utility firm.

Hence SESB said it cannot offer a discount nor reduce the newly-revised tariff it is set to bill consumers at the end of this month, as demanded by the opposition PKR Api-Api Assemblywoman Christina Liew who earlier said SESB should give a 30 per cent discount.

Preliminary findings revealed by Sabah Electricity Sdn Bhd (SESB) on Wednesday were that Ranhill's power plant decided to shut down the gas turbines after encountering a technical problem, causing power to fluctuate and trip.

A letter by the IPP to SESB said its "diverter damper", the door which covers the gas connection from the turbines to power up a steam turbine at the plant, could not be shut.

Out of fear as smoke was continuously coming out from the plant, they decided to shut down the two gas turbines, it said.

A special task force committee comprising experts from the Energy Commission, SESB and Tenaga Nasional expect to complete a detailed investigation in two weeks.

Among others to be determined is whether the issue had been caused by technical or human error. However, Energy Commission West Coast Areas Director Nazlin Ab Alim Sidiri said the detailed report would be forwarded to the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry to decide whether to launch an elaborate investigation.

"Under the Electric Supply Act 1994 all licenses to IPPs are issued by the Commission, if there are situations where the IPPs can assist supply in times of crisis and had received instructions to do so, but did not do it, their licences can be revoked. But we hope that no action will be taken," she said. For now the team has determined the cause of the blackout, she said.

SESB Managing Director Abdul Razak Sallim said this is the second time a total blackout has happened to Sabah, the first in April 2012. The blackout, which left Sabah and Labuan without power for some 10 hours from 11am, left the utility firm with about RM2 million in losses, he said.

In the report, he said the blackout episode could be divided into two events, the first being a residual overcurrent protection at 10.30am where power was stabilised and a sharp drop in power transmission at 11.11am.

He said in the first event, power generation had stabilised to 633MW, while demand stood at 585.1MW with an excess margin of 48.5MW.

But in the second event which caused the total blackout, power generation stood only at 525MW, while demand remained at 585MW, causing a margin deficiency of (-) 60MW, the problem of which was traced to the Ranhill Power Plant.

"But power supply has since been restored to normal," he said.

SESB, TNB and Energy Commission are now working together to strengthen its 21 fail-safe system and other efforts to ensure there will be no repeat of a total blackout. Abdul Razak said the State Cabinet Ministers had also been briefed about the cause of the blackout on Jan. 17.

Meanwhile, a redundancy system to serve as a back-up power line can solve the State's constant power trips.

According to SESB's Abdul Razak, power trips are caused by a system failure or high impedance fault happening at the distribution level caused by expansion of roads where excavators suddenly unearth power cables.

"Or it may not happen immediately but as the impedance fault develops in two to three days and it gets seriousÉthis will also cause power trips," he explained.

He said Sabah would continue to experience power trips because towns like Kota Kinabalu, Tuaran, Tawau and Sandakan are still expanding with many developments going on.

However, setting up a redundancy system or a back-up power line can serve as a back-up when the main cables are down and, thus, improve the State's Average Interruption Duration Index (Saidi), said Abdul Razak.

He said the Government has been continuously providing allocations to set up the system.

"But for us to have a 60-minute Saidi like in the peninsula, Sabah needs to have RM4 billion to carry out the work. "

And we have to be very realistic about the figure," he said.