Friday, February 25, 2011

Big darkness in Goroka…and other power stories from PNG


Amidst the gloom, doom and despair of another series of blackouts in Port Moresby, I felt a sense of déjà vu, as I remembered a big darkness in Goroka in 2000.
The good thing is that I wrote about the experience for The National in the Monday, May 15, 2000 edition for posterity and can always refer back to it for a memorable trip down blackout lane…and reflect on how things have taken a turn for better or worse over the last 10 years.
I was then working for the Coffee Industry Corporation in Goroka, still had no children, and lived with my late wife Hula in North Goroka overlooking the roaring Zokozoi River, where we had so much fun.
Those were the good old days when there were no mobile phones and no internet access like today.
On any other day, it wouldn’t have mattered.
But on State-of-Origin night, it amounted to a scandal.
It would have been Armageddon!
Angry fans could have ripped Goroka – infamous for rioting and where rugby league is a matter of life or death – apart.
Conspiracy theories about Elcom (now PNG Power) and Telikom playing a joke on the residents of Goroka abounded that fateful Wednesday, May 10, 2000 during the opening State-of-Origin clash.
The Bee Gees sang about the lights going out in Massachusetts.
In Goroka that night, State-of-Origin time, it was worse: first the TV went off, then the power.
From my hilltop abode overlooking the Zokozoi River, I could hear the whole of Goroka town erupting in protest.
I know Goroka, and was bracing myself for all hell to break loose, all along putting my own words into the refrain of that revered Bee Gees’ hit… “and the lights all went out in Goroka”.
No Blues, no Maroons!
What are we going to do?
This was State-of -Origin night, one of the most-important dates on the PNG calendar!
It’s a time when the grog flows, when mate goes against mate from plush hotels in Port Moresby to an impromptu club on the slopes of Mt Wilhelm; when large amounts of money trade hands.
And we weren’t going to watch it in Goroka!
It all started after the 6pm EMTV news when there was an electricity surge and then, horror of horrors, the TV went off.
The groans, needless to say, were deafening!
The immediate theory, going from house to house, was that landowners had blown the repeater station on Mt Otto.
Oh well, I thought to myself, at least we have the temporary reprieve of radio.
But to rub salt into the wound, in a classic case of Murphy’s Law, the power went off at about 7pm.
 And by this time, tempers were flaring, Elcom and Telikom being mercilessly pilloried for this torture of Goroka residents.
Origin blues had hit Goroka!
I brought out the candles, lay down with Hula, and was settling into Tolstoy’s War and Peace (help, there’s going to be a riot in Goroka tonight) when at 8pm sharp – just as the game was about to begin – the power and TV were back.
Oh, those roars of delight – which resounded through Goroka – would have drowned the 60,000-plus crowd at Stadium Australia.
Or, was it divine intervention (for in my estimation, those tipsy fans in the many roadside clubs around Goroka could have found something to vent their frustration on, had it not been for the power and TV coming back on)?
Miracles still happen, and they did, as the power and TV returned and my good old Blues won 20-16 with my favorite player David Peachey scoring the winning try in the 76th minute. 
“…and the lights were shining in Goroka”.
Ten years on, residents of Port Moresby and Lae will have to put up with ongoing electricity blackouts in the short-term, says PNG Power chief executive officer Tony Koiri.
They have been experiencing a spate of blackouts since last year, resulting in business houses and individuals losing million in business and private property such as electrical appliances, as well as experiencing security problems and many others.
Koiri says while the blackout problem in Port Moresby will be somewhat alleviated by the end of this month with a new gas turbine at the privately-owned Kanudi power station in Port Moresby, Lae residents will have to be patient as the main station at Yonki in Eastern Highlands, Ramu 1, needed a complete refurbishment, similar to what was done at Rouna 2 outside Port Moresby.

This is a picture of the new Kanudi gas turbine power station, which is expected to be operational by the end of this month and help to alleviate ongoing blackouts in Port Moresby.-Picture courtesy of PNG POWER
He says K50 million will be needed for refurbishment at Ramu 1 as PNGPPL looked to set up a new power station at Malahang in Lae to replace the outdated Milfordhaven station.
No time frame for refurbishment work at Yonki, or when the new power station at Malahang would be built, were given.
Koiri says Port Moresby currently needs 100 megawatts of power, however, only 54 MW are currently being supplied by Rouna, Kanudi and Moitaka power stations.
“The main contributing factor is the huge growth in demand of electricity with all the developments,” he tells me.
“Growth is running at about 10% (electricity demand) per annum.
“That’s the highest.
“On average, when you look at the past 20 years, the growth rate was about 2.5%
“This is a five-fold increase in electricity demand over the last two years.
“We never envisaged that the growth would be that much.
“All our planning was based on very conservative estimates.
“A lot of cities around the world don’t even have 10% growth, maybe in countries like India and China, but not the others.
“We need to quickly look at what generations options we have.
“Things like, for example hydro projects, take about four years to bring on line.
“Large thermal power stations take about two to three years.
“For us, this can’t solve our problems, so we go for expensive options like putting up gas turbines, like the one installed at Kanudi.
“We are hoping that this comes on line at the end of February.
“As far as the city is concerned, we are meeting demand now, but for us to properly manage the huge power supply system, we need to build up redundancy.
“We need about 24 megawatts of additional supply reserves to properly manage the power supply system in the city.
“With the gas turbine in February and redundancy units, we should have enough to meet demands, at least for the next six to eight month.
“By the end of this year, PPL needs to put in an additional 30 megawatts of diesel generation, just to meet increased demands and to have the reserves that we need.
“In the long term, we are looking at developing Naoro/Brown River hydro project which will give us 80 megawatts.
“We are anticipating, come 2015, for the power station to be up and running.
“We are also hoping that by 2014, some gas from the first LNG project will be made available for power generation.
“With these two projects, power supply in the city of Port Moresby will be secure from a generation point of view.
“Obviously, network type improvements will have to be invested in, including upgrading, and new lines.”
Koiri says in Lae, the main problem is that PNGPPL’s main station at Yonki, Ramu 1, needs a complete refurbishment, similar to what was done at Rouna 2.

Transmission lines at Golden Pine Bulolo.-Picture by ROCKY ROE
“We are about to sign a contract with a company for K50 million as soon as financing arrangements are in place,” he says
“The refurbishment project should take two years.
“Short-term solutions to the ongoing power outages in Lae are required.
“We are investigating acquisition of a new power station at Malahang.
“The power station will be sufficient to meet all of Lae’s requirements.
“We need to put that out quickly.”
“The issue of funding is now being discussed with patrons like Nambawan Super, in conjunction with IPBC.”
Koiri says PNGPPL is hoping to sign a memorandum of understanding with Nambawan Super for some assistance.
Meantime, stock up on the candles, and sing along with the Bee Gees!
PNG Power Ltd Hamata sub-station


  1. Anonymous11:25 AM

    oh that's good news. does that mean we won't be having blackouts anymore?

  2. A very innovative idea. power generation and distribution should be okay.

  3. A very innovative design and idea. power generation and distribution should be okay so that load demand met.