Recurring blackouts leave Salwa residents baffled, exhausted

By Nebal Snan

KUWAIT: People living on a residential street in Salwa woke up Tuesday dawn to the smell of diesel and a loud noise disturbing the otherwise quite area. The source of the polluting commotion? Three generators that emergency teams at the electricity ministry had placed temporarily after power outages paralyzed residents’ lives for two nights in a row. “It’s frustrating,” said one resident on Monday night who asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. “They’ve been trying to restore power since last night. They managed to fix it Sunday night, but the power went out again Monday at around 9 pm.”

Power was down for a total of nine hours Sunday and Monday, with a whopping six-hour outage that began Monday night and continued into the early hours of Tuesday. Lights flickered and appliances turned on and off several times as emergency workers dressed in yellow vests attempted to investigate and remedy the source of the disruption. According to some residents, some apartments had electricity in half of the rooms, while the other half was shrouded in darkness. “That actually helped because one of the two air-conditioners in the apartment continued working, so my family didn’t have to suffer in the heat,” said the unnamed man.

Temperatures on Monday night reached 33 degrees Celsius. Repairing the electrical failure, which is reportedly due to a damaged underground cable, was expected to take a few days, a man living in the area heard from the team dispatched by the ministry to handle the issue. But residents were baffled to see the generators removed without a trace less than eight hours after they were installed. “This is ridiculous. Am I expected to believe that they fixed a damaged cable so quickly?” said the man. “They probably used a band-aid solution and didn’t fix the underlying problem.”

A power box placed at the front of one of the buildings on the street was left wide open for hours after workers connected it to one of the generators.

Record-breaking loads Despite being an oil-rich country, Kuwait is no stranger to blackouts. The issue is exacerbated by the hot summer season, when people spend more time indoors with air-conditioners on full blast, putting extra pressure on the country’s electrical grid. On June 12, Kuwait’s electrical load indicator reached 15,764 megawatts at 2:30 pm. In 2022, the indicator peaked at 16,180 megawatts, according to local media, meaning the country will likely reach record-breaking loads as temperatures continue to rise. The electricity ministry reportedly expects loads to near 17,000 megawatts, only 10,000 megawatts less than the country’s estimated capacity of 18,000 megawatts.

In a 2020 interview with local media, an official with the ministry said violations, such as tampering with electrical fuses and meters, lead to more frequent blackouts. These illegal practices, he said, are very common in areas with farms, horse stables and animal sheds, including Kabd, Abdaly and Wafra. Between June 3-4 this year alone, electricity was disconnected in three residential areas — Doha, South Sabah Al-Salem and Gharnata — due to power boxes in the areas’ power plants going out of commission, the ministry reported on Twitter at the time. Same problem, different year Power outages also seem to be a chronic problem for the Salwa street — the same thing happened last summer, according to another resident who also asked to remain unnamed.

And the way the electricity ministry has been dealing with the issue has not changed much, either. Power generators remained in place for “weeks” in 2022 as repairs were carried out, said the resident. Just as the case on Sunday, last year’s outage was also caused by damage to one of the underground cables, the repair of which had electricity ministry teams drilling into the street. “Had there been regular maintenance to the electrical grid, this wouldn’t have happened,” said a female resident who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s a trend we see across Kuwait, where the lack of maintenance leads to the shutdown of many projects after neglect renders them a hazard to the public.”

Speaking to Kuwait’s state media agency KUNA in April, then Electricity Minister Mutlaq Al-Otaibi said the ministry is “prepared to face the summer season”. Otaibi added that the ministry had completed 78 percent of the maintenance work needed to ensure power generation and water desalination plants continue to fulfill the country’s needs. Inconvenient repairs While the generators provided temporary relief for a majority of residents, some said having them on the street was also an inconvenience. At least three people living in the area were called out of their apartments at around 2 am to remove their vehicles and park them elsewhere to make space for the massive power supply units.

The installation process was also far from seamless, they said. “I moved my car as I was told; then (the workers) told me they don’t need my parking spot, so I moved it back. But as I was doing that, they told me to move it again. This happened twice,” said one exasperated resident. There was back and forth with bringing over the generators as well. According to a witness, the maintenance team brought over three generators early Monday night, but later realized they were too large to fit without blocking all residents’ vehicles.

The witness added that workers did not have enough insulation and asked residents for trash bags to use instead. A power box placed at the front of one of the buildings was left wide open for hours after workers connected it to one of the generators, said another resident who feared it would put people at risk. The electricity ministry had announced on Twitter a series of power outages to affect all six governorates between June 18-22. The tweet, which said electricity will be disconnected to carry out repairs to some of the secondary transformers in these areas, did not include Salwa on the list.

The post Recurring blackouts leave Salwa residents baffled, exhausted appeared first on Kuwait Times.

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