Nine hour power cut in Malé caused by damaged switch gear

The State Electricity Company (STELCO) has said that a power outage in the Galolhu ward of Malé around 1:00am last night was caused by a damaged switch gear at a distribution centre in Lily Magu.

The power cut lasted more than nine hours and followed STELCO warning of intermittent cuts in the capital after one of two main 8MW generators at the power plant suffered damage.

STELCO spokesperson Ibrahim Rauf told Minivan News that electricity services resumed around 11:00am this morning after the switch gear was replaced.

Contrary to rumours, Rauf said last night’s outage was not the result of an overload caused by LED lights placed at government buildings to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence.

Rauf suggested that the damage could have been caused by heavy rainfall last night, but said that the exact cause has not been determined.

The damage to one of the main engines earlier this month was caused by “technical problems” and will take time to repair, Rauf said. The generator’s parts will have to be brought from overseas and replaced, he added.

STELCO is yet to determine the cause of the generator failure.

The government-owned electricity provider in the atolls, Fenaka Corporation, is meanwhile transporting two 2MW engines to Malé from Addu City for temporary use during the independence day celebrations.

Rauf said one of the generators was shipped out last night and STELCO “will see when it arrives” whether it could be installed ahead of Independence Day. But he expressed confidence that STELCO will be able to handle the high demand for electricity on July 26 without power cuts.

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post on Sunday, Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq said electricity services provided by the central power station was disrupted last week while power outages have been common in recent weeks.

The transfer of the generator to Malé is regrettable, he said, calling on the government not to “deprive citizens of such basis services.”

The government’s policy of ensuring reliable, round-the-clock electricity across the country has “failed,” Sodiq contended.

“The question is if Addu faces an electricity problem tomorrow, will an engine be brought from Greater Malé?” he asked.

Rauf meanwhile told Minivan News last week that the LED lights strung for independence day celebrations will use around 2.5 MW of electricity from the STELCO grid.

“We are very concerned and saddened because the lights may also suffer due to the power cuts,” he said.

Malé uses 46MW of electricity on average, but the amount could go up to 52MW at peak hours or on dry and humid days.

“The demand for electricity depends a lot on the weather. If we have wet cold weather then people would not use air-conditioners and electricity demand will be reduced,” he said.

It has been raining heavily in Malé this week, but July 26 is expected to be dry, according to weather forecasts.

Power cuts will last only one hour at high demand periods, and will be spread out in different areas of Malé, Rauf said.

Maldives is celebrating 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.


Power shortages may affect plans to light up Malé on Independence Day

Power shortages may spoil the government’s plans to light up the capital Malé City on Independence Day, the State Electric Company (STELCO) has said.

A crucial 8MW generator is down at the power plant due to an unexpected failure and may take up to two weeks to repair.

Ibrahim Rauf, the STELCO spokesperson, said the company may have to cut off power intermittently at different areas in Malé due to the generator failure. It is one of the two 8MW generators at the power plant. There are a number of smaller power generators.

“The lights alone will use around 2.5 MW of electricity from our grid. We are very concerned and saddened because the lights may also suffer due to the power cuts,” said Rauf.

The Supreme Court, the President’s Office, the smoke stacks at the power plant, the foreign ministry and numerous government buildings have been decked from the ground floor to the top in red, green and white LED lights.

Maldives is celebrating 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

Malé uses 46MW of electricity on average, but the amount could go up to 52MW at peak hours or on dry and humid days. Rauf said he expects electricity demand to be high on Independence Day, but stressed that only some areas will suffer power cuts, meaning most of the buildings in Malé will continue to be lit-up.

“The demand for electricity depends a lot on the weather. If we have wet cold weather then people would not use air-conditioners and electricity demand will be reduced,” he said.

It has been raining on and off in Malé this weekend, but July 26 is expected to be dry, according to weather forecasts.

Power cuts will last only one hour at high demand periods, and will be spread out in different areas of Malé, Rauf said. STELCO is yet to determine the cause of the generator failure.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.

The government has not yet disclosed the full program for the day.

Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Finance minister Abdulla Jihad previously told Minivan News the budget was MVR150 million (US$9.7million).


Businesses around Maldives protest electricity subsidy cut

Most shops, cafés and restaurants in the northern business hub of Haa Dhaal Kulhuduhfushi were closed in protest over electricity subsidy cuts on Sunday as anger builds among companies around the Maldives over steep rises in power bills.

Businessmen demonstrated in Addu City in the south, while others in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo are preparing to boycott paying their bills, which in some cases tripled overnight when the subsidy was removed.

In Kulhuduhfushi, more than 100 shops and restaurants will be closed until 8pm Sunday in protest over “unfair electricity rates” and subsidy cuts, while more than 100 people have been protesting outside the office of electricity company Fenaka since this morning.

Shops would normally open from the early morning until 10pm.

“We will continue to raise our voice till the government is ready to listen to us,” said Adam Shareef, a member of the steering committee on electricity subsidy cuts in the island.

“We will continue our protest outside the electricity company till the government responds, but the shops will reopen tonight.”

The government has removed electricity subsidies to companies from last month onwards, while domestic households have been told to reapply for subsidies before April 9.

Businesses in Kulhuduhfushi, Addu and Thinadhoo have condemned the subsidy cuts and are also angry about the high price of electricity in the atolls compared with the capital, Male’ City.

Only a few shops were open in Kulhuduhfushi today, including the two state owned shops run by State Trading Organization and the businesses of Mohamed Zuhair, a well-known businessman in the atoll.

“I do support the cause and I think the differences in electricity prices are a gross discrimination between the peoples of the atolls and the people of Male’ City,” said Zuhair, also a member of the steering committee.

“But closing down all the shops without giving due warning to the public will not benefit them. That’s why all of my shops are open.”

Zuhair said one of his shops had previously received monthly bills of MRV 23,000 ($1,500) and these have now shot up to 60,000, while another store’s bill tripled from MVR 7,000 to MVR 21,000.

The difference in electricity prices between Male’ and the atolls is an issue of big public concern.

Prices in Haa Alif, Haa Dhaal, and Shaviyani atolls are 72 percent higher than in the capital, while those in Addu City and Fuvahmulak are up to 37 per cent higher than in Male’ city, according to figures from Fenaka Corporation, which provides electricity for most islands in the Maldives.

Mohamed Ismail, a local from Kulhuduhfushi, said: “We feel like we are second class citizens. The state is providing electricity for the islands as well as Male’.

“So why should there be any difference? Are we not worthy of being treated fairly?”.

Meanwhile a group of businessmen in Addu City in the south also protested over differences in electricity prices and the subsidy cut.

“Some businesses did not accept the electricity bills and today a number of businessmen protested outside the electricity company office,” said the mayor of Addu City, Abdulla “Sobe” Soadhig.

Businesses in Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo, also in the south, have decided not to pay the electricity bill until the government reinstates subsidies or prices fall.

“We are in talks with the government to find a solution to this problem. But we cannot simply wait and hope for a government response,” said Abdulla Saneef, a Thinadhoo council member.

“The steering committee, which pretty much covers all businesses, has already decided not to pay the electricity bills.”

The government has previously said that the large distances between the Maldives’ remote islands mean that services such as electricity will inevitably be more expensive in the atolls.

The International Monetary Fund has urged the government to move its subsidies to a targeted system, rather than blanket payments.

Fenaka had not responded to queries at the time of going to press, while President’s Office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz was unavailable for comment.

The government, presenting its 2015 budget, said that it would target electricity subsidies to the poor, while rumours have been circulating on the social media that households with air conditioning systems would not receive the domestic subsidy.

However, Mujthaba Jaleel, CEO of National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) said that “every household that applies for the subsidies will get it,” according to Haveeru.


MVR20 million saved in electricity subsidies with fall in oil prices: NSPA

The National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) has announced savings of MVR20 million (US$1.3 million) in electricity subsidies due to the steep fall in international oil prices.

Haveeru reported NSPA CEO Mujuthaba Jaleel as saying that the agency had provided a monthly average of MVR81 million (US$5.3 million) in subsidies last year, with this month’s outlay expected to fall by 25 percent.

International oil prices plummeted from US$100 per barrel to US$80 in just three months late last year, while current prices have dipped below the US$50 mark per barrel.

Mujuthaba also said that the recently announced re-registration of people wanting electricity subsidies – between February 10 and April 9 – would result in a further reduction in costs.

The re-registration comes after the government announced it would start providing targeted subsidies for food and electricity in order to ease the state budget deficit.

The International Monetary Fund had previously pointed out the need to target the subsidies saying that it would result in “substantial savings”.

Source: Haveeru


“It’s cool at 25”: environment ministry launches energy saving campaign

Electricity used for air-conditioning accounts for 60 to 70 percent of energy consumption by households and offices in the Maldives, Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim has revealed.

In his message on the occasion of World Energy Day yesterday (October 22), Thoriq noted that the slogan for the ministry’s campaign to conserve and reduce energy use is ‘It’s cool at 25’.

“Studies show that the most appropriate temperature for cooling buildings in the Maldives is 25 degrees celsius,” he said.

“Therefore, maintaining temperature at this level will benefit us directly and indirectly. My hope is for the Maldives to become an example for other countries in energy use.”

Thoriq noted that the Maldives had one of the highest rates of energy use per capita in the South Asia region, adding that the vulnerability of the economy to changes in the price of oil poses threats to “Maldivian sovereignty”.

Thoriq said energy security was essential for a developing country.

Individuals could also contribute to energy saving by using environment-friendly energy efficient appliances, he continued, which though expensive would reduce costs in the long-term.

The year-long ‘It’s cool at 25’ energy saving campaign was launched this morning at the head office of the State Trading Organisation (STO) in Malé.

Speaking at the launching ceremony, Thoriq said about MVR8,000 (US$519) – or seven percent – from electricity bills could be saved annually by raising the temperature on air-conditioning units.

For a household with three 9,000 BTU air-conditioning units, Thoriq said about MVR18,000 (US$1,167) a year could be saved by setting the temperature to 25 degrees celsius.

Moreover, a one percent reduction in oil imports would amount to US$5 million, Thoriq observed.

STO Managing Director Adam Azim meanwhile noted that a one percent reduction in electricity bills would result in enough savings to build homes for 75 families.

Substantial savings have been made through STO’s ‘Save 50 million’ cost-cutting efforts, Azim said.

Renewable energy

In his Energy Day message, Thoriq also stressed the importance of using renewable sources of energy for sustainable economic development.

Last month, the energy ministry announced plans to generate 30 percent of electricity used during daylight hours in the 196 inhabited islands of the Maldives from renewable energy sources.

A function was held to mark World Energy Day yesterday on the island of Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu atoll to establish a 203 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system with assistance from the German government.

At the event, an agreement was signed between the environment ministry and GIZ (German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation) to hand over the PV system.

According to the ministry, the government’s utility company – the Fenaka Corporation – would be responsible for operating and maintaining the system.

The Kudahuvadhoo island council meanwhile endorsed the ‘It’s cool at 25’ energy saving campaign before a children’s fair was held in the evening.

“In this fair prizes were awarded to children who took part in the activities like drawings related to energy efficiency,” explained the environment ministry. “In this fair, equipments related to energy day and energy efficiency were exhibited to the visitors.”

An awareness raising workshop for the public was meanwhile held today “to provide information on the PV system established in the island and the energy efficiency” with presentations given by the ministry and the Maldives Energy Authority.

Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, Thoriq noted that 30 percent of GDP in the Maldives was used to import oil at a cost of US$500 million, which was “a challenge to reaching sustainable development” and “a major burden on the economy”.

Generating electricity from renewable sources would reduce the dependency on fossil fuels, Thoriq said.

Diesel fuel accounts for the bulk of the energy supply in the country – about 82.5% in 2009.

According to the Maldives Customs Service, of the MVR7.2 billion (US$466.9 million) worth of goods imported in the first quarter of 2014, one-third was spent on petroleum products.

Thoriq told state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) this week that solar panels would be installed in five islands in 2015, including a 1.5 megawatt PV system in Addu City and a 4 megawatt system in Malé.

The environment ministry was also studying the possibility of generating electricity through other renewable sources, Thoriq said, such as tidal energy and wind.

In January, a pioneering desalination project on the island of Gulhi, in Kaafu atoll became the first place in the world to produce desalinated drinking water using waste heat from electricity generation.

In August, the environment ministry announced a number of initiatives to minimise the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, including the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) set to “transform the Maldives energy sector.”


Government to provide electricity to all islands before Ramadan

Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim has stated that the government aims to provide sufficient electricity services to all inhabited islands prior to the month of Ramadan – likely to fall in late June.

Speaking at a conference of the government-owned Fenaka Corporation’s managers, Nazim acknowledged that currently some islands do not have sufficient electricity services. He stated that the utilities company Fenaka can play a major role in the government’s initiative to provide electricity to all the inhabited islands.

Nazim opined that the interferences in the supply of electricity in islands is mainly caused by the lack of proper maintenance of the generators, and the difficulty in obtaining spare parts.

Nazim stated that the current project undertaken by Fenaka to acquire new engines would contribute to providing a solution to the matter, while also highlighting the importance of having a plan to install and maintain the engines.

“We will need to panic at the last minute unless we have a plan to install them before they come to customs. Unless we do so, we cannot accomplish this in the right manner. The government now wishes to provide sufficient electricity to all inhabited islands prior to Ramadan. We can achieve this if this project proceeds in the right manner,” he stated.

Noting that Fenaka provides basic services, Nazim stated that employees at the company should work in line with government policies. He said that this does not require employees to act within political interests.

“If there is a difference in political ideologies, then it is best to let us know this through a letter. There are many people who are seeking jobs. The important thing is for those with different ideologies to step aside and give space to these people who are seeking jobs. I do not accept that any employee of this company needs to have a difference in political ideologies interfere with the work they are meant to do,” Nazim stated.

Nazim stated that the conference of Fenaka’s managers would assist in formulating effective policies to finding a solution to the problem of electricity service interruptions in the islands, while also building relationships which will assist in future cooperation between managers from various islands.


Parliament accepts bill to amend Privileges Act to protect journalist sources

Parliament has accepted a bill to amend clauses in the Parliament Privileges Act potentially requiring journalists to reveal their sources before parliamentary committees.

Article 28 of the constitution states – “Everyone has the right to freedom of the press, and other means of communication, including the right to espouse, disseminate and publish news, information, views and ideas. No person shall be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

However Section 17(a) of the Parliamentary Privileges Act states: “[Parliament or a Parliamentary Committee has the power to] summon anyone to parliament or one of its committees to give witness or to hand over any information which the parliament wish to seek.”

Penalties for disobeying range between MVR1000-3000, and three to six months imprisonment.

The bill to amend the act was accepted for review by parliament with a 47 vote majority.


Government owes US$35.2 million in unpaid electricity bills: STELCO

The State Electric Company (STELCO) has revealed that the Maldivian government owed MVR 543 million (US$35.2 million) in unpaid electricity bills as of last month.

According to STELCO, most of the money (MVR 281 million/US$18.2 million) is owned by assorted government offices, while Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) owes MVR 37 million (US$2.4 million) and the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) owes MVR 224 (US$14.5 million).

The figures were revealed in a letter to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, and reported in Sun Online.

In the letter, the company complained that the government’s failure to pay was causing it cash flow problems and harming its ability to roll out projects.

The government has meanwhile sought parliament approval for an extension of its MVR 50 million overdraft with STELCO, prompting the committee to summon STELCO executives to explain the situation.

According to Sun, during the meeting today committee member and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ilyas Labeeb rejected the government’s request for further loans, and questioned why STELCO did not simply shut off the power to government buildings as it did with homeowners who failed to pay their bills.

STELCO, which is wholly owned by the government, is the country’s sole provider of electricity to major urban centres, such as Male’, and many inhabited islands.


Government cannot pay state salaries without Indian cash: Finance Minister

Minister of Finance Abdulla Jihad has said the government is unprepared to meet its recurrent expenditure – including salaries – for the final three months of 2012 without the US$25million loan promised by the Indian government.

Jihad, who was not responding to calls at the time of press, told local media outlet Sun Online that he believed the loan  is being delayed due to the ongoing controversy over Indian infrastructure company GMR’s development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The Ministry’s Financial Controller Mohamed ‘Kuday’ Ahmed was also not responding to calls at time of press.

India’s High Commissioner to the Maldives DM Mulay told Minivan News that “India stands by every commitment and hopes Maldives will reciprocate. We have excellent rapport with the GOM [Government of Maldives] and issues, if any, are sorted out amicably.”

India’s Ministry of External Affairs publicly expressed concern over the political stability and the investment climate in the Maldives earlier this month.

Sun meanwhile reported Jihad as saying he had made repeated requests via the High Commission for the loan to be expedited.

Jihad’s comments come during a week in which President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has been campaigning in Faafu and Dhaalu Atolls, reportedly reassuring the people that the economy was running smoothly whilst crticising those who he claimed sought to weaken it.

A concerted campaign by government-aligned parties to annul the US$511million concession agreement with GMR – the single largest foreign investment in the country’s history – has sparked concerns over investor confidence with damaging implications for the long term development of the economy.

Waheed is also reported as saying that he would not resort to borrowing from foreign governments in order to finance government activities.

“I will not try to run the government by securing huge loans from foreign parties. We are trying to spend from what we earn”, he was reported to have told the people of Nilandhoo.

“The Maldivian economy is fine. Don’t listen to whatever people say. We don’t have to [worry] about the Maldivian economy being in a slump,” he was quoted as saying during a rally in Meedhoo.

Minivan News was unable to obtain comment from President’s Office spokesmen on this issue before going to press.

The US$25 million was agreed upon last month as part of the $US100 million standby credit facility signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2011.

Unpaid bills

Despite Waheed’s reassurances, this month has seen a number of state owned institutions face disconnection from the capital’s power grid as bills amounting to around MVR150million (US$9.7million) were said to be owed to the State Electricity Company (STELCO).

Responding to the institutions’ blaming of his ministry, Jihad told Sun that the finances were simply not there.

“We are not receiving foreign aid as was included in the budget. How can we spend more than we receive? That’s why those bills are unpaid. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” he told the paper.

He mentioned that the government would have difficulties paying the salaries of civil servants in the final quarter of this year.

Since coming to power in February, the government has committed to reimbursing civil servants for wage reductions made during the austerity measures of the previous government, amounting to Rf443.7 million (US$28.8 million), to be disbursed in monthly installments over twelve months from July.

A MVR 100million (US$6.4 million) fuel subsidy for the fishing industry was also approved by the Majlis Finance Committee earlier this month, with the hope of stimulating the ailing sector.

The overall deficit for government expenditure has already reached over MVR2billion (US$129million). Jihad has told the Majlis’ Finance Committee that he expected this figure to rise to MVR6billion (US$387million) by year’s end – 28percent of GDP – alleging that the previous government left unpaid bills equal to over one third of this anticipated deficit.

Former Minister of Economic Development Mahmood Razee told Minivan News that this increased expenditure in the face of a pre-existing deficit represented the government “ignoring reality.”

“If they don’t get the loan, they will have to cut travel expenses, stop certain programs – take drastic measures or get another loan,” said Razee, claiming that the only alternative would be to sell treasury bills.

Following reports in August that the government was attempting to raise funds through the sale of treasury bills, former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz said that this would not address the concerns of the IMF, prolonging economic uncertainty.

China has made large commitments towards the Maldives’ economic development in recent months, although Razee said he believed that current changes within the Chinese government in the upcoming month made this an inopportune time to look there for additional financial aid.

In August, the current Finance Ministry announced its own austerity measures intended to wipe over MVR2.2billion (US$143million) from this year’s budget deficit though few of these propositions have as yet been followed through.