MIRI: Weaknesses in the solar power generation system in rural Sarawak must be dealt with to avoid frequent power disruptions.
Sarawak is trying to produce electricity from solar generated power sets for tens of thousands of people in the rural area but there is risk of a major blackout if there is prolonged bad weather or diesel shortage.
Some 2,000 folk in 11 villages in the Bario highlands in northern Sarawak had that dilemma between Friday and Monday.
They were without electricity because of a shutdown in the solar sets following days of heavy rain.
The minority Kelabits in Bario are the main ethnic group living in the mountainous range.
The state power supply agency - Sarawak Energy Bhd - confirmed a power breakdown occurred in Bario due to bad weather and sent technicians to repair the faults on Monday afternoon.
Power has been largely restored, the company said.
Rurum Kelabit Association chairman for Miri, Dick Bala, said there are at least 11 villages connected to the Bario solar-power grid.
“The solar project in Bario is designed to supply electricity to at least 11 settlements.
“The solar project in Bario may be green in nature but it has its weaknesses as it is dependent on the weather,” he said.
Bala said the solar set is linked to a backup system of generators that run on diesel fuel.
“However, if there is fuel shortage or the generator sets are faulty, then there will be no electricity at all,” he said.
Bala said getting diesel fuel to Bario is a big logistical problem as it takes at least 13 hours by timber road from Miri.
“If it floods or if the rain is too heavy then land transport is totally cut off. Even flights cannot move in such bad weather,” he said.
The local authority in charge of Bario is the Miri City Council.
Miri mayor Adam Yii said his council will liaise with Sarawak Energy Bhd to overcome the woes in Bario.
He said there are two schools, a government clinic and offices in Bario aside from the villages that depended on the solar-diesel fuel system.
Nigel Spykerman, who is operating a homestay in Bario, said such power woes caused inconvenience to local residents and tourists.
“This is the school holidays and there is an influx of locals going back to Bario for the school and Christmas vacation.
“There are also tourists coming en masse.
“Homestay resort operators have to stock up on food supplies and they are going rotten in the refrigerators due to the power woes.
“The authorities must come up with a long-term solution soon,” he said.
Without proper electricity supply, cooking food, boiling water and lighting up the homes at night will be hard, he added.