Taiwan power outage caused by flipping wrong switch, not hackers: Govt investigation

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Flawed design and poor communication, including an operator’s decision to flip a switch marked “Do Not Operate,” were the main causes of an island-wide power outage in Taiwan last week, according to a government investigation.

A failure at the Hsinta coal-fired power plant in Kaohsiung last Thursday led to blackouts across multiple regions, including the capital Taipei and parts of the chip-making hub of Hsinchu.

In the hours before the power plant failure was confirmed as the reason for the disruption, speculation swirled online that with ex-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visiting, the island’s grid had been targeted in a cyberattack.

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A maintenance team at Hsinta had removed insulating gas from a circuit breaker at the plant on Wednesday last week, and warned operators not to route electricity through the equipment, according to the report by the economics ministry.

The following day, despite a yellow and red warning notice being attached to a control panel, a member of staff pulled the switch.

That ultimately shut down the plant and caused the main transformer for southern Taiwan to also stop operating, triggering outages in that part of the island, the report said.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who visited the plant after the incident, said the outage highlighted issues around the resilience of Taiwan’s power transmission systems, and pledged the government would review the existing grid design.

A technician’s error previously shut down the same plant in Kaohsiung last year, resulting in outages across Taiwan’s industrial parks.

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