The Korea Herald


Criticism rages over power cuts


Published : Sept. 16, 2011 - 20:20

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Government vows to cap peak demand, boost reserves

Millions of residents and industrial workers remain outraged on Friday even after the government apologized for massive power cuts that blasted the country on Thursday, vowing not to repeat the mistake.

An unseasonable heat wave forced the Korea Power Exchange, state-run energy-trading bourse, to carry out rolling blackouts at around 3 p.m., which continued for 30 minutes each as they rotated around the country.

The unprecedented incident caused no injuries but left nearly 3,000 citizens panicked inside stalled elevators and paralyzed thousands of businesses in Seoul, Incheon, Daegu and other southern parts of the country. Their damage bills are yet to be assessed but could be as high as double-digit billions of won in total.

On Friday afternoon, the KPX was put on alert again as the electricity reserves fell below 4 million kilowatts due to an increase of power demand.

A few hours later, however, the situation returned to normal as the electricity demand decreased and its reserves boosted, according to KPX officials.
Employees at a Korea Power Exchange office in southern Seoul monitor electricity supplies Friday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) Employees at a Korea Power Exchange office in southern Seoul monitor electricity supplies Friday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Facing a flood of news reports and consumer complaints, Minister of Knowledge Economy Choi Joong-kyung issued a statement on Thursday night to apologize for the power outages.

“I regret that KEPCO and the KPX implemented rolling blackouts without informing in advance, causing great inconvenience for many residents,” he said.

Choi admitted that the two electricity grid operators had not expected such an upsurge in demand. Thursday’s maximum demand topped 67 million kilowatts, well above the KPX’s estimates at about 64 million kilowatts.

A temporary closing of some 25 power plants for post-peak maintenance fueled shortages, pressing down the country’s electricity reserves by more than 8.3 million kilowatts, he said.

Critics slammed the government’s failure to conduct adequate due diligence, saying Thursday’s peak demand was not even closer to the previous high on Aug. 31 of 72.19 million kilowatts.

The Korea Meteorological Administration had also forecast scorching weather after the Chuseok holidays, which ended Tuesday, they added.

“The KPX only began adjusting electric pressures at 12:50 p.m. although demand had skyrocketed starting around Thursday midnight,” said Rep. Kang Chang-il of the main opposition Democratic Party, who is a member of the National Assembly’s Economy Committee.

“This incident is something that could possibly happen in a country whose power industry is going backward.”

Yet, complaints are centering on the absence of early notice and whether the KPX contravened its market operations rules on putting brownouts in place.

According to its manual, the KPX, which controls electricity flows based on supply and demand in the market, needs approval from the minister before employing the load-shedding scheme.

“The uninformed decision was made to avert a potentially greater catastrophe under urgent circumstances,” a ministry official said.

The ministry said they will cap peak demand at 67 million kilowatts and boost reserves by getting stalled stations back to work and balancing supplies for energy-intensive companies.

By Shin Hyon-hee (