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Energy

Taiwan restores power after outages hit millions of homes

Chipmaker TSMC says it experienced voltage dip at some manufacturing sites

The government has not provided details of the outage, but the island's electricity supplier, Taipower, said it was caused by a technical failure and that blackouts would continue.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- Taiwan's government has said it restored power after a massive series of outages Thursday afternoon left millions of households without electricity and risked the production continuity of the island's booming tech companies.

The economic ministry said that the electricity supply was restored by 8 p.m. local time. In an address to the public, President Tsai Ing-wen apologized for the outages.

A malfunction caused four generators to trip at Hsinta Power Plant in the southern city of Kaohsiung around 3 p.m. This pushed the island's power supply below a security level, triggering the widespread outages.

The Hsinta plant, which runs both coal-fired and natural gas-fired generators, is the third largest power plant in Taiwan.

"There was a malfunction in the power grid that meant a power plant could not distribute electricity, and that led to multiple power outages across Taiwan," Chang Ting-shu, spokesperson for the state-run Taipower utility, told reporters. "We have sufficient power supply today. The issue was about the power grid, not because of power shortage."

Hsinchu Science Park, the heart of Taiwan's semiconductor industry, said the "biomedical zone" of the park experienced a power suspension. The massive plants of the island's biggest chip manufacturers Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and United Microelectronics Corp. were not affected.

Tainan Science Park, the site of TSMC's most cutting-edge chip production plants for iPhone processors, said the power supply was not cut off at major tech plants for TSMC, UMC and Innolux, but that the voltage did drop.

TSMC said in a statement that it experienced a voltage dip at some of its manufacturing sites. The company said that so far the power supply has been normal and it has adopted emergency measures and additional power generators as a backup to minimize any impact. 

The sudden voltage change could still have a minor impact on production, industry sources told Nikkei Asia.

Taipower has initiated a power supply rationing plan. There have been five rounds of rotating one-hour power supply suspensions, as of publication. Each round affects around 2 million households across Taiwan, the state-run power company said.

"A total of 4 million households will take turns and be affected by the rationing measure," Chang of Taipower told Nikkei Asia. "For the safety of the power grid, we have to implement power rationing measures."

The unexpected power outage came as Taiwan, a global role model for containing COVID-19, is battling to suppress the spread of the coronavirus after reporting more than 35 locally transmitted cases in three days. The Taiwanese stock market's weighted index fell around 9% from Monday to Thursday on fears the island will raise its COVID-19 warning level and implement stricter disease prevention measures.

Taiwan last suffered a massive power outage in 2017, when about 6.68 million households were affected. That failure occurred after government-owned petroleum company CPC encountered problems replacing the power supply to a control system delivering natural gas to a state-run power plant.

The Tsai administration is scheduled to phase out all use of nuclear power by 2025.

To quickly fill the gap, the administration is building a third and massive natural gas terminal off the coast of Taoyuan to increase the use of liquefied natural gas as a key source of the nation's electricity. The construction of the terminal, however, is opposed by environmental groups on the grounds that it will destroy the habitat of algal reefs.

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