SEB apologise over frequent blackouts; say steps taken to address issue

Sarawak Energy’s Group Chief Executive Officer Sharbini Suhaili - SEB

KUCHING: State power company, Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB), has apologised for the frequent power blackouts in the state over the past few months and promised to “intensify efforts to minimise both local and transmission-line related outages through a broad series of initiatives”.

“We are stepping up our efforts to minimise the risk of these incidents as well as the duration of outages when they occur,” SEB’s Group Chief Executive Officer, Sharbini Suhaili said.

On May 5, areas between Kuching and Sibu were hit by a major blackout which SEB said was “due to a tripping along its 275Kv Kemena-Bintulu transmission line”.

Kuching City this month experienced three outages – all believed caused by trippings along the Kemena-Bintulu line.

SEB, in a statement, said due to “preparatory measures” taken following last year’s tripping incidents, restoration of supply was able to commence almost immediately with no disruption of supply to critical facilities such as hospitals and the airport.

The utility company said investigations to determine the exact cause of the outages are ongoing but “preliminary investigations indicate that external transient factors are behind the trips” without explaining what they meant.

SEB however said to minimise power disruptions along the 25 to 30 year-old transmission line, their technical team “is closely and proactively monitoring” the line.

They would also conduct more frequent thermal scanning, vegetation management and scheduled line inspections.

To minimise these power outages, SEB also stated they are investing significantly in technology, back-up supply and infrastructure “for a more modern, efficient and reliable power system”.

One of them is the new 500kV transmission second backbone transmission line.

Started in 2013, this infrastructure upgrading project is estimated to cost RM2.7 billion.

Sharbini said the critical parts of the line should be completed by the end of this month, to provide “an alternative to the vulnerable section of the state grid, particularly the Bintulu-Kemena-Oya-Selangau line where the recent trips have occurred”.

Once completed, the reliability of Sarawak’s electricity supply is expected to be strengthened by providing additional circuits or lines parallel to the existing 275kV transmission line connecting major power stations to load centres in southern Sarawak to solve the current system constraints.

The completion is delayed due to land disputes and wayleave issues along its 600km route.

“We are investing RM7million for alternative supply and to effectively manage the restoration time for localised outages; RM3.8 million to purchase 14 mobile generator sets together with the vehicles with a capacity ranging from 150kVA to 500kVA,” Sharbini said.

He also said SEB planned to buy another three sets of 500kVA mobile generators costing RM2.5 million.

He said about RM300 million was spent yearly to reinforce and strengthen the distribution system.

Out of this amount, RM250 million was dedicated to build new distribution substations and new lines, and to upgrade heavily loaded transformers and overhead lines.

Another RM50 million was spent yearly on basic substation and overhead line maintenance including vegetation clearing.

As they search for the cause of the trips and to minimise consumer inconvenience should there be another, Sharbini said SEB would continue to run back-up diesel supply in Kuching to cater for the load demand in case of another transmission line trip along this older line.

SEB said it had also reminded contractors working within the vicinity of transmission lines, to be extra cautious when doing excavation work.

There were nine incidents of localised outages caused by third party contractors’ excavation works in Kuching city areas alone.

“We are urging contractors to be cautious. Other than sending out public service announcements on “call before you dig” messages through the mass media, we have also taken the initiative to distribute leaflets to contractors at construction sites and organised safety briefings to public contractors,” he said. –