E.P.C. confident it will withstand cyclone season

As the end of the year draws near, the General Manager of the Electric Power Corporation, Tologata Tile Tuimaelealiifano, says its electricity generators are in good condition to withstand potential shocks.

After an island-wide blackout on Upolu caused by a lightning strike to two of four diesel powered generators at the Fiaga Power Plant in January, the E.P.C. commissioned a review into its shock protection systems.

That review is now complete and the state-owned utility hopes to have improvements in place by year’s end.  

Reliable diesel power generation is particularly crucial during cyclone season because hydropower plants are at risk to flooding, Tologata said. 

“It’s common that in every cyclone, heavy flooding comes with logs and debris, so we always expect our dams and header ponds to be blocked,” Tologata explained.

“After a cyclone we need to clear that up.

“We can only clear or clean so much. If we clear in order for no trees to fall into the pipelines it will be a very massive and expensive exercise.”

Tologata said that the E.P.C. is working to prevent damage to all parts of power infrastructure, from the hydropower plants to power distribution lines, during a storm. 

But the General Manager said thinking Samoa can escape the dangers of the season this way is wishful thinking and that the power company is preparing for the worst.

An engineering firm from New Zealand reviewed the Fiaga protection systems after the two generators were seriously damaged by lightning. Tologata said its report recommends for Samoa to install more lightning protection.

That work is currently awaiting bids from eligible companies and Tologata says that he hopes to have the improvements finished by the end of the year.

He suspects the COVID-19 pandemic will slow that work down but that the Government-utility will try its hardest.

“We believe what we have built up so far is capable of withstanding any future storms. But after we implement the extra recommendations it will build up the system,” he said.

The general manager, who has been with the E.P.C. for 38 years, will leave the corporation in October to stand for the 2021 General Election for Falelatai and Samatau. 

He has registered as a candidate for the Human Rights Protection Party (H.R.P.P.).

Tologata has been the General Manager since 2011, and said he is confident in its emergency response systems.

“From our experience in past cyclones we were very quick to restore power after cyclones, so I am very pleased with our response and the effort by the corporation,” he said.

But he lists one concern as the sustainability of power discounts extended to citizens and tourism properties as part of stimulus measures passed in response to the global economic downturn. 

Tologata said the E.P.C.’s budget can absorb the discounts but that if both they and the state of emergency continue into 2021 that could be a different story. 

“But we will wait and see. I think with [discounts running] until December this year, we can still survive,” he said. 

He said the E.P.C. may consider approaching the Government to seek additional funding, possibly from an external partner or source, if the Corporation’s budget is squeezed.

“Even though we are a state-owned enterprise and we have our own budget which is different to the Government budget for other ministries and departments, we can still apply to the Government if we find ourselves not able to fund [our] services.

But for the meanwhile, he says, they can cope. 

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