Massive blackout hits Taiwan amid sweltering heat

Power supply expected to return to normal by midnight Tuesday

Preparing food by the light of a smartphone in Taipei's Beitou District Tuesday evening. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Amid sweltering heat, a power outage at Taoyuan City’s Datan Power Station (大潭電廠) plunged traffic, shopping malls and offices across Taiwan into chaos beginning Tuesday afternoon.

The state-run Taiwan Power Corporation (台電) said that at 4:51 p.m., six units at the power plant tripped, causing a drop of 4 megawatts (MW) in the electricity supply.

Human error causing a two-minute cutoff in the supply of natural gas to the Datan station by state-owned oil company CPC Corporation, Taiwan was blamed for the incident. Taipei has been battling with at least ten days of consecutive maximum temperatures above 36 degrees Celsius, leading to peaks in power consumption.

Economics Minister Lee Chih-kung (李世光) apologized to the public while announcing that 6.68 million households across 17 cities and counties in the nation of 23 million would be faced with rolling blackouts during three periods each lasting one hour.

The phased program began at 6 p.m. and meant in practice that if residents were faced with a blackout, power would come back on within the hour, officials said. The whole country was expected to experience a return to normal by midnight, reports said Tuesday evening.

Problems were reported from across the country, with traffic signs in Yilan County falling dead, the lights going out at two Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department stores in Taipei City’s popular eastern district shopping area, and office workers across parts of New Taipei City forced to leave or to stay in the dark waiting for the power supply to be restored. Even the country’s tallest building, Taipei 101, suffered, but only partially, reports said.

Government departments such as the Council of Agriculture and the Central Weather Bureau were not spared either, reports said.

In Miaoli County, a 42-year-old man died in a fire which was believed to have been caught by a falling candle used during the blackout.

National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei City and the capital’s Mass Rapid Transit system said they had not felt the effects of the power failure.

Power consumption Tuesday hit a high of 36.4 MW just before 2 p.m., breaking a record only set last Friday, Taipower said.