As the country faces a severe power shortage, many customers of state-owned electricity firm PT PLN, especially outside Java, have been long familiar with frequent blackouts and have prepared to face the crisis as PLN cannot do much to help. And now Jakarta is eventually hit by the blackout threat. Is it true that the problem has nothing to do with possible poor management or even mismanagement by PLN?
A fire gutted PLN’s electricity substation in Cawang, East Jakarta, on Tuesday. The company has imposed rotating blackouts across East Jakarta and North Jakarta. The incident, however, is a strong alarm that from now on Jakartans cannot fully depend on operators of various vital services – especially when they are monopolies – as guarantee nothing if they fail to carry out their services. Let us make our own preparations for the worst possibility.
According to the company, there is no timeline for when its services will back to normal following the incident, because components of the voltage regulator, which were burned during the incident, have to be purchased from the producer in France, which will take days. As a result, more areas in the capital will face more frequent blackouts to limit the usage capacity at the power substation to avoid further technical failures.
“We earlier announced rotating blackouts of four hours every three days [for one area]. Now we have to make it four hours every two days,” PLN’s Greater Jakarta general manager Purnomo Willy was reported as saying in this newspaper on Friday, adding that blackouts would affect more areas.
The fire at PLN’s Cawang substation has caused more than 200,000 households, home industries, offices and other PLN customers to face rotating electricity cuts. It also sparked worsening traffic chaos because many traffic lights in many parts of the capital were not working.
After the incident, we deserve to question the commitment of PLN in serving its customers. Why does the company rely only on one 10-year-old voltage regulator without any reserve equipment that may be put into operation in case of a failure?
We appreciate PLN’s efforts to maintain power supplies for vital public services such as hospitals, traffic lights and government offices. But what about the other PLN customers? Are they compensated for the failed services? How about small industries, which suffer from losses due to the power cuts? It seems we can only accept PLN’s explanation without any chance of arguing.
This is not the only problem faced by Jakartans. Customers of tap water services have also long faced similar problems. Their complaints about poor water quality and irregular supplies never receive serious responses from the city-owned tap water operator, PAM Jaya, or its business partners.
So far, when pressed about the quality of water, they blame the old pipes in the network, which have not been replaced. As for the intermittent services, they say this is due to the water shortage at the Jatiluhur dam during the dry season, which is the main source of raw water to the two companies.
They feel no guilt over these problems, even though they are caused by their own failures to carry out their plans to upgrade pipes and find other sources of raw water. They have an overreliance on Jatiluhur, and have no initiative to try to find other resources, such as desalinating seawater into fresh water, which should be considered due to the scarcity of water resources in Jakarta.
All these facts above should make us realize we cannot rely on services from operators of essential services such as water and electricity. It seems we have to prepare for frequent blackouts or unreliable water supplies, with no chance to have our rights as consumers upheld.