A power company chief says he is not confident of his firm's ability to restore service within a day if the supply of electricity imported from the mainland - proposed as an option for Hong Kong's future energy supply - was disrupted.
Hongkong Electric managing director Wan Chi-tin was answering questions yesterday about Hong Kong's power security and reliability if the proposal to import one-third of the city's energy needs from a mainland grid went ahead.
"I cannot offer a guarantee that we can start [backup generation units] within a day if something big happens," Wan said. "Even if we have 100 per cent backup, seamless power restoration might not be possible."
Wan was responding to concerns about potential disruption to Hong Kong's secure and reliable power supply that have been expressed since the government named mainland imports as a possible means of meeting the city's future energy needs and reducing the use of polluting coal fuel.
Another option is to triple the local gas-fired power generation capacity to make up 60 per cent of total capacity.
Wan said the import option - under which 15 billion kilowatt-hours a year would be bought from the Southern China Power Grid by 2023 - might not prove cheap.
The option might also not be as environmentally friendly as the city's officials believe it to be because most of the grid is coal-fired, Wan told a seminar on the city's future energy mix at Baptist University yesterday.
"We can't shift our responsibility to clean up the air to someone else," Wan said.
He added that boosting cleaner gas-fired power generation would likely not prove as costly as expected because international gas prices had already peaked three years ago.
Wan also warned of declining bargaining power in electricity deals if Hong Kong widened electricity imports - a concern shared by Macau power supplier CEM's senior manager Ip Kam-veng at the same seminar.
"The more we import power, the weaker our bargaining power will be," Ip said, citing a 36 per cent rise in power import prices since 2006.
Although Macau has been treated as a "priority customer" by the mainland grid, this was more a verbal promise than a legal contract provision, Ip said.
"If they fail to give us the power, we will run into a massive blackout," he said.
Macau now relies on imports to meet more than 90 per cent of its power demand and aims to boost this to 100 per cent in the long run. "It's all a matter of how much risk you're prepared to bear and can cope with," Ip said.
Hong Kong's largest supplier CLP Power, which owns the Castle Peak power stations with Southern China Power Grid, took a flexible view. Managing director Paul Poon Wai-yin said there was no need to rush to pick one option or the other.
Principal assistant secretary for the environment Donald Ng Man-kit said imports could help diversify energy sources.