Nation-wide Blackouts Cause Chaos

Factories halted production, traffic signals failed, and people were trapped in elevators this evening, as power failures brought blackouts to many parts of Taiwan.

At 4:51pm the six gas-powered electricity generating units at the Datan (大潭) power plant in Taoyuan County malfunctioned, reducing the national power supply by 4.38 million kilowatts, and triggering emergency power rationing systems that caused rolling blackouts around the country.

The Datan power station (also spelled Tatan) is the world’s largest gas turbine combined cycle power plant, and the biggest gas-powered station in Taiwan.

In Taoyuan, the fire department said that at least 20 people were trapped in elevators.

People sweltered in homes and offices as air-conditioners powered off with temperatures in the high 30s. The power rationing system cut the power off to millions of households at the time for a one hour period.

In Taipei City as of 6:30pm, the fire department had received 86 reports of people trapped in elevators and undertaken 51 rescues. While the Taipei Metro operated normally, the Maokong Gondola was shut down. The 255 people on-board the gondolas were slowly disembarked using an emergency backup power supply.

Shortly after 6:30pm Economic Affairs Minister Lee Chih-kung resigned over the incident. The Premier has already accepted Lee’s resignation, cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) told reporters.

At a press conference held by Taipower and cabinet members it was revealed that the shutdown was caused by operator error. Someone at the Datan power plant shut a gas valve for two minutes. It was said that the power units were not damaged and it was hoped that full power generation capacity could restored by 8:00pm.

A little later the ETA for power restoration was pushed back to midnight.

Taiwan has a tight power supply and operating reserves are marginal during summer months when air-conditioners are turned up to cope with the heat.

Operating reserves fell and the national power supply was put at risk July 29 after an electricity transmission tower collapsed during a typhoon. The collapse of the tower took the Heping Power Station off the national grid. Supply from Heping Power Station was restored just 3 days ago.

However, Heping’s coal-fired generator went offline this morning and repairs couldn’t go ahead until the generator’s boiler had cooled down.

This evening’s power disruptions are the biggest the nation has experienced since 1999.

At around 9:40pm power generation at the Datan plant was near normal and the rolling blackouts ceased.

At 10:30pm, President Tsai Ingwen made an apology to the nation on behalf of the government, and stressed that the national power supply is not only important for the people’s livelihood but also for national security. The national power supply has been in a fragile state for many years; so much so that a simple human error can paralyze the country.

The President ordered relevant departments to make a thorough report, and said “The government has been promoting a distributed green power generation system to avoid a single power plant accident affecting the power supply of the entire country. Our policy direction will not change, and the events of today will only make our determination stronger.”

screenshot showing power outages at a power plant in Taoyuan
A screenshot from the Taipower website showing power units offline at the Datan power station.
fire bureau call center
In Taoyuan the fire bureau received non-stop calls as people were trapped in elevators.

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