SEB: Power restored to 11 of 12 villages hit by solar-power outage in Bario mountains

MIRI: Sarawak Energy Bhd (SEB) says it has restored power to 11 out of 12 villages that were hit by a solar-power outage in northern Sarawak.

The power failure that happened on Friday (Dec 7) in the Bario mountains affected some 2,000 highland folks.

SEB said it deployed technicians in a chartered helicopter and two ground crews to restore electricity supply to the affected areas.

"SEB apologises for the power disruption in Bario, where the solar power grid failed to generate power due to prolonged bad weather. There was also technical fault in the switch system to diesel generators.

"SEB sent three technical teams, two by land over a 14-hour journey on timber road and another team by chartered helicopter to do the repairs.

“Power was restored to 11 villages at 3pm today, while another village will be restored with power on Monday (Dec 10) afternoon,” said SEB in its latest updates on Sunday (Dec 9).

Sarawak is trying to produce electricity from solar-generated power sets for tens of thousands of its rural population, but there are risks of major blackout in the event of prolonged bad weather.

The minority Kelabits in Bario are the main ethnic group living in the mountainous range.

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 in such a way that it supplies electricity generated from the sun to at least 11 settlements connected to the solar-power grid.

"There are about 2,000 people connected to the grid out of the 6,000 Bario population.

“The solar project in Bario may be green in nature, but it has its weaknesses as it is dependent on the weather,” he told The Star.

Bala said the solar system is linked to a backup system of generator sets that run on diesel fuel.

"If the solar sets cannot generate power, then it should auto-switch to the generators using the diesel.

“However, if there is fuel shortage or if 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 are not allowed 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 liase with Sarawak Energy Bhd to overcome the problem.

“The extend of the power breakdown is being looked into,” he said.

Temporary measures include reactivating the diesel generators while the solar system woes are being checked, he added.

Yii said there are also two schools and government clinic and offices in Bario that are dependent on the solar-diesel fuel system.

Nigel Spykerman who operates a homestay in Bario said such power woes caused a lot of inconveniences 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 vacations.

"There are also tourist coming en-masse.

"Homestay resort operators like me have to stock up on food supplies in our refrigerators but they are going rotten 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 and operating electrical and electronic appliances will be hard, he added.