Past the power pinch

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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N.L. Hydro and Newfoundland Power are questioned on a week of conservation

In a board room at Hydro Place in St. John’s, representatives for both Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro sat for an interview midday Friday, taking any and all questions on the management of the province’s power system through the past week.

It was a week requiring a three-day special request for energy conservation by individuals and businesses on the island of Newfoundland.

As the main power-producing utility, Hydro is still reviewing what, if anything, might be done differently in future to avoid a need to go to customers and ask for conservation in the face of high demand.

Hydro is ultimately responsible for being able to meet the demand for power and from Tuesday through Thursday, March 4-6, Hydro staff were left asking customers for conservation.

While Hydro is responsible for producing enough power, Newfoundland Power was in constant interaction with Hydro in assessing the need, communicating the public request for energy conservation and dealing with the demand, said Newfoundland Power’s vice-president for customer operations and engineering, Gary Smith.

“The utilities work hard at this together,” he said, explaining Hydro’s daily demand forecasts, filed to the PUB, need inputs from Newfoundland Power and, in addition to operators monitoring the delivery of power, Newfoundland Power’s own generators were used to help meet the demands of the week — adding about 110 megawatts (MW) atop Hydro’s available supply of between 1,560 MW and1,580 MW, depending on the day.

Smith said Newfoundland Power’s small amount of hydroelectric and fuel-burning power has in the past been regularly used in a concerted effort with Hydro, to keep costs down at the fuel-burning Holyrood power plant, substituting cheaper hydro where possible. Newfoundland Power’s generators have also been used to meet peak demand as the demand runs high.

“We’ve used them more this year for peaking purposes than we’re used to doing,” Smith said. “That’s just the nature of the requirement for meeting peak this year.”

Hydro vice-president Rob Henderson said staff at the utilities continue to work closely together beyond the on-the-ground operations level, and there was steady two-way communication at all levels this week.

“There is regular reporting back and forth on status, of when generation changes. The same works with Corner Brook Pulp and Paper. We are always aware of what’s happening with their generation and if there’s any changes in availability,” he said.

He was asked why conservation requests were needed this week. He pointed to cold temperatures and 145 MW of power generation capability out of the count, as a result of various mechanical issues at the power facilities of Holyrood, Bay d’Espoir, Stephenville and Hardwoods.

“I think because it’s particularly cold — that’s driving the demand up. And we have those problems with our generators. These generator problems are typical in the sense you can have these types of problems, not exactly the same, but problems that take generation capacity off throughout all the winter. It’s a question of does that occur in coincidence with when you have the cold period? It may not,” Henderson said.

“Our reserves were reduced, but we did successfully meet this and the customer conservation efforts certainly helped that, but the reason for it is the generation isn’t there because of problems we had.”

He acknowledged temperatures experienced this week were not outside the realm of possibility and Hydro is expected to be prepared for the worst winter can bring.

“That’s certainly true. So, in terms of answering your question, I guess that’s part of what we are doing, a review to identify whether there is anything that we should be changing, anything we’ve learned from this,” he said.

Hydro is looking at what additional power generators might need to be brought online to meet the demand for power as demand rises, particularly as operations at Vale’s Long Harbour processing facility ramps up over the next two years.

The goal is to prevent any need for Hydro to depend on customers to help avoid blackouts.

“We’re doing that internal review and we’re sharing our results with the Public Utilities Board,” he said.

Through blog posts and social media, communications staff with Hydro and Newfoundland Power are responding to questions on the past week and providing more information on the state of the power system.

More information is available on the utilities’ websites.


On the calendar:

March 24, 2014 — Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro must provide reports to the Public Utilities Board (PUB) for the PUB’s investigation into the reliability of the power system.


March 31, 2014 — An application to be filed by Hydro to the PUB addressing an expected need for new power generation to meet demand as of 2015.


May 15, 2014  — After receiving a report on the island power system from its hired consultant, the PUB will release its ultimate findings on the immediate needs of the system.


June to December 2014 — The PUB will continue with its investigation into reliability, looking at long-term issues.


First quarter 2015 — The PUB will issue its final report from the power review as a whole.


End of 2015 — Additional power generator/s to be installed to “bridge the gap” of power requirements between now and when the island’s power system is connected to the mainland, assuming PUB approval.


A broader, provincial government review of the provincial power system and how it is managed has been promised, but has yet to be scheduled.

Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Public Utilities Board

Geographic location: Island of Newfoundland.As, Holyrood, Long Harbour

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 09, 2014 - 09:58

    After the blackout debacle the BOD at NL Hydro has not changed. Danny's cronies are still there at the trough. They just don't care. We are being taken for a ride.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 08, 2014 - 16:23

    NL Hydro's report to the PUB for March 4th says that Island Peak Demand for that day was 1,658 MW. ...........Ashley's above-referenced article (The Weekend printed version) includes a table which says that for March 4th NL Hydro's supply capacity was only 1,575 MW (and NL Hydro's report to the PUB contains a graph that shows only a slightly higher supply capacity).... If those numbers were satisfactorily clear for ratepayers, then on March 4th WE ALL SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE DARK (demand being reported as being greater than supply). ---- When will the PUB demand that NL Hydro provide CLARITY?

  • Tony Rockel
    March 08, 2014 - 13:44

    Past the power pinch-- yes, now they'll continue with the power grab.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 08, 2014 - 08:21

    Clearly, when the PUB requested NL Hydro to provide daily status reports on the "Island Interconnected System", it was (in part) that "grid" that the PUB was referring to. ..........And at times over the last few days, Island Peak Demand on that "grid" (as noted in NL Hydro's daily reports to the PUB) exceeded 1,600 MW......... How then can it be that (as noted in The Telegram's printed version of the above article), can it be that "Supply numbers represent Hydro's capacity to supply to the grid" when those supply numbers show a maximum capacity of 1,580 MW? If demand exceeded supply, why were we all not in the dark?

    • Morry
      March 08, 2014 - 10:11

      A dog and his bone.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 08, 2014 - 06:44

    Nalcor reports to the PUB that the Island Interconnected System NET (firm/dependable) capacity is 1946.1 MW. Nalcor also reports that over this most recent cold spell, Island Peak Demand reached 1,658 MW. Now my math says that leaves a gap/buffer of 288.1 (less the 145 Mw due to generation problems) --- for a firm buffer of 143 MW (even with the generator problems, almost 3 times the approx. 50 MW that Nalcor is reporting). Why is Nalcor excluding (and your article not include) almost 300 MW of firm power from its information to the public?

  • Sam
    March 08, 2014 - 04:44

    Hire a management team that knows what they are doing. Ed Martin and team has taken a gamble with Muskrat and it is not their money they are dealing with. Resign.