By Constantinos Psillides
The crisis following the Mari naval base blast was unprecedented and dealing with its aftermath has made us wiser, Yiorgos Shammas, head of the Cyprus Electricity Regulating Authority (CERA) said yesterday.
The tragedy that rocked the nation, caused a power blackout and brought the economy to its knees, occurred very early in the morning of July 11, 2011 when 100 munitions containers exploded, killing seven sailors and six firemen who were trying to put out the fires.
“There was no literature on dealing with such a disaster. It was like the station had been bombed, that was our impression. Therefore there is no manual telling us what to do. It was an urgent situation demanding urgent decisions, new thinking and team work,” Shammas said in an interview he gave to the Cyprus News Agency.
He added that the first images from his visit to the destroyed Vassiliko power station next to the Mari base caused “shock and sorrow.”
Shammas argued that the only reason Cyprus pulled through that ordeal was that the shortfall was small, making the situation much more manageable.
He recalled that his first action was to notify then Commerce minister Antonis Paschalidis to issue a decree mandating CERA to order the electricity authority (EAC) to rent mobile generators to face the power shortfall. A crisis management unit was set up, tasked with monitoring the situation daily.
“Cyprus is in a state of emergency,” read the three-page letter Shammas had sent to Pascsalidis.
The generators were installed and working by August 15 leading to the termination of the rolling blackouts.
Competent EU authorities were also notified of the disaster.
Shammas noted that a significant decision was to exempt essential services, hospitals as well as tourist installations from rolling power cuts. “I believe that decision saved our economy. If tourist units had been affected we would have had cancellations of holiday reservations,” he added.
Furthermore, Shammas said that CERA introduced technical novelties such as “marginal adequacy,” as it decided to rent generators of a capacity of only 165 MW instead of covering the whole 400MW-gap that emerged from the blast. “We were trying to limit the load to the taxpayer,” he said.
The blast and the consequent destruction of the island’s main power station resulted in a nearly 7 per cent hike of the electricity bill, which was abolished in September 2013.
The Vassilikos station was partially restored in August 2013.
Shammas also noted that in dealing with the crisis, CERA ignored “imaginative” – as he called them – solutions, like tearing down the power-plant and installing photovoltaics instead.
“Every proposal we heard was unattainable and would have had grave implications to the country’s economy, so we closed our ears to all of those proposals,” he explained.
Shammas concluded that the crisis made us wiser and that the Commerce ministry is working on a legal framework regarding risk assessment studies for areas where such facilities are located.