Power plant repairs avert more blackouts

Repairs to the Rutenberg power plant south of Ashkelon managed to bring electricity production up to par just in time for Tuesday afternoon's peak demand of 8,380 megawatts, narrowly preventing a third day of initiated roaming blackouts, Israel Electric Company said. In the late morning, Israel Electric said that production capacity was about 8,000 megawatts, but that repairs to a production unit in the Rutenberg facility that failed Sunday morning would gradually bring capacity up to about 8,550 megawatts. Fortunately, production capacity indeed reached about 8,450 megawatts by the time total demand for electricity in Israel came to its peak of 8,380 megawatts around 2:30 pm, Israel Electric said. "That is what happens when a power network is managed with such a low level of reserves," argued Israel Electric spokeswoman Yael Ne'eman. The Magen David Adom confirmed that there were no incidents resulting from any renewed power outages Tuesday. Until Tuesday, growth in demand had been outpacing Israel Electric's ability to increase production capacity. Sunday's original outage was caused when demand levels peaking at 7,700 megawatts caught Israel Electric at an unusually low production level of 7,300 megawatts. Israel Electric managed to bring production capacity to about 7,700 megawatts Monday, but demand grew faster, and peaked at nearly 8,000 megawatts, causing the company to initiate roaming power outages for a second day. "Generally when there is a continuous heat wave over several days, demand rises from day to day," said Ne'eman. Though Israel Electric's total potential production capacity when all facilities are up and running is about 10,700 megawatts, continued obstacles to getting some plants and production units back on line will most likely keep capacity at no more than about 9,700 megawatts through the summer, Ne'eman said, adding that demand could also reach that level. Peak demand last summer came to about 9,030 megawatts, and though demand grows by about 4-4.5 percent each year, it may hit 9,700 megawatts during a heat wave this July or August, renewing the risk of outages, she said. "The system is being challenged constantly," Ne'eman commented. Israel Electric made use of the shortages to repeat its claim that the grid's power reserves must be expanded to between 15% and 30% of peak demand from the current 5%-7% level, citing international norms and Israel's status as an "electricity island" unable to depend on back-up from the power grids of neighboring countries. The Finance Ministry has rejected the demand due to the higher costs that maintaining such a cushion would incur, which they argue is unnecessary in any event. Beyond the heat, factors contributing to this week's power shortages were unfinished spring-time maintenance, which kept several production units off line; the closure at the end of February of Tel Aviv's 430-megawatt Reading power plant for failing to switch its fuel source from crude oil to natural gas; the closure earlier this year of facilities at Alon Tavor and Gezer - which together produce 700 megawatts of electricity - due to a labor dispute related to the government's planned reform of the sector; and unexpected malfunctions Sunday morning at the Rutenberg facility south of Ashkelon and Monday morning at the Rabin Lights facility near Hadera, which lowered Israel Electric's capacity by another 550 megawatts and 360 megawatts, respectively. Among Israel Electric's efforts to reinforce its production capacity, the company finished spring maintenance on a 570-megawatt production unit at Rutenberg, and also received a special permit to reactivate the Reading facility on crude for up to 21 days, by which point it must be run on natural gas or again face closure. Already Sunday evening, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer assembled a commission to investigate the causes of the blackouts, amid accusations that some within the electricity system had an interest in causing the shortages. The commission was ordered to present its conclusions within one week.