TAIPEI – Around 10 million households across Taiwan were hit by a series of rolling blackouts on Thursday (May 13) after a power plant malfunction in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.

Power across the island was fully restored around 8pm, said electricity provider Taiwan Power (TaiPower), which implemented the short-term outages in hour-long intervals across different districts as an emergency safety measure because four generators at Kaohsiung’s Hsinta Power Plant tripped at 2.37pm on Thursday.

The generators – two coal-fired and two fueled by natural gas – tripped because an electrical grid at the plant had malfunctioned, preventing the facility from providing energy, said the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA).

President Tsai Ing-wen apologised at a briefing on Thursday night, saying that the power plants in Taiwan are operating as usual and can provide ample energy, but the outage had been scheduled to protect the grids.

Premier Su Tseng-chang, too, posted an apology on his Facebook page, saying that he has asked the state-owned TaiPower and the MOEA to review power grid distribution, maintenance and management to prevent such incidents in the future.

The blackouts came a day after Taiwan saw its highest ever daily record of 16 local Covid-19 cases, news that led many people to stock up on canned goods, instant noodles and toilet paper in a panic.

Many were still standing in long lines at a chain supermarket PXMart in Da-an District in Taipei when the power went out.

“Don’t worry, the cashier machines are still working,” said Ms Yang Yi-chin, 42, a cashier at the supermarket.

Down the street, many residents were standing outside their apartment buildings, fanning themselves with handheld fans or their hands.

“It’s cooler out here, but I’m getting impatient,” said Mr Hau Yong-lou, 61. When the power came back just after 6pm, cries of hurrahs were heard echoing down the alley.

The blackouts affected many parts of Taiwan, including the capital Taipei, New Taipei, in the northern region, Taichung in the central region, Tainan and Kaohsiung in the south. On the east coast, Yilan, Hualien and Taitung were also affected.

Tainan is home to a science park which houses facilities of companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker. Some TSMC facilities experienced a brief power dip, the company said.

Operations at ASE Technology Holding, the world’s largest chip packaging and testing services provider, had been affected, the company told Bloomberg, but the full impact was yet to be determined.

At a bar in Hualien city, co-owner Yang Meng-ta, 31, said: “Our bartender Wei is rushing to prep all the ingredients in the dark before we open tonight.”

People eat using the light from their phones in Taipei, on May 13, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
People eat using the light from their phones in Taipei, on May 13, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

While his bartender struggled with a flashlight in the afternoon, Mr Yang decided to push the opening time back to 8pm as the government had promised power would be back by then.

Large-scale blackouts in Taiwan usually occur due to natural disasters such as earthquakes or typhoons or because the island did not have enough back-up power. Between 1988 to 1996, blackouts happened nearly every year because of a lack of back-up electricity.

Prior to Thursday’s massive outage, the last major blackout Taiwan experienced was in August 2017, when six power generators tripped after natural gas pipes malfunctioned following a faulty repair job. Taiwan was also severely lacking in back-up power at the time.

Premier Su reassured the people that Taiwan had enough back-up power, with around 10 per cent of emergency power, but with unstable electrical grids, this could not be utilised.

The Tsai administration has been trying to phase out nuclear power plants since Ms Tsai first got elected in 2016.

Mr Su noted that while solar-generated power took up a higher percentage than nuclear-generated power, the government will continue to work on improving electrical grids and replace coal-fired generators with natural gas, as well as promote the use of more solar-generated power “so Taiwan can provide energy in a more eco-friendly, stable manner”.

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