Power demand overruns supply

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Loss of Holyrood, small hydro, leaves people in the dark

This young lady on Cornwall Avenue had a bird’s eye view of the action as adults worked to clear driveways Friday.

People across Newfoundland spent at least some portion of the day without power Friday, as the amount of energy demanded by homes and businesses on the island was surpassed by what was being supplied to the isolated grid.

As of deadline, about 65,000 Newfoundland Power customers remained without power, 40,000 of those in the St. John's area.

The power shortage was due to the failure of multiple Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro generating units and power plants.

The main problem came around 6:45 a.m., when the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station went offline.

According to Karen O'Neill, a spokeswoman for Nalcor Energy - Hydro is a Nalcor subsidiary - there was a problem with equipment at the terminal station at Holyrood. That problem caused a loss of power at the plant next door.

Without power, the generators can't run.

The Holyrood power plant operates 24/7 with an average 100 to 110 employees keeping the plant running as needed. However, the adjacent terminal station is filled with equipment dealt with by an outside team, with different training - training specific to terminal stations.

That team is located in Whitbourne, since that location is central to multiple island terminal stations.

It took several hours to get the terminal station experts to Holyrood when needed this week, as a result of snowdrifts and whiteouts on the Trans-Canada Highway - the result of the weather system hitting the province.

Exactly what led to the failure at the Holyrood terminal station is still under investigation.

As of 5 p.m., repairs were underway and the power plant was expected to take several hours to bring online, beginning the feed to Newfoundland Power for distribution to that company's customers.

Yet Holyrood was not the only headache for Hydro during the storm. Generating units at Upper Salmon and Cat Arm also went offline.

"Not sure exactly the issue at each of these locations," O'Neill said when asked about the smaller power plants.

Cat Arm is on the southeastern area of the Northern Peninsula and is the third largest hydro plant in terms of capacity, able to produce 127 megawatts (MW). Upper Salmon is a smaller plant, west of Bay D'Espoir and able to put out 84 MW. In comparison, Holyrood can put out about 500 MW at maximum capacity.

Just as with the problem at the terminal station at Holyrood, the company is investigating the exact cause of the loss of capacity at its smaller plants.

The shutdowns at the smaller hydro stations may have been caused by irregularities in the system as a result of the storm.

"If the system identifies there's issues there ... there's tripping ... the system can do things to protect itself," O'Neill said.

Outages were expected overnight as the power supply and service system was normalized. Newfoundland Power spokeswoman Michele Coughlan said power would be rotated to customers until Holyrood is brought back online by Hydro.

"Until they do that and we have a supply of power, we won't be able to restore power to (all) customers," she said shortly after 6 p.m.

As for who recovered power during the day, Coughlan said that was determined by technical aspects of the system and not arbitrary selection.

Asked about issues outside of the supply, she said there was a problem with just one feeder power line to Cape Broyle, affecting about 1,200 customers, before Holyrood was lost.

Meanwhile, customers have been asked by both Hydro and Newfoundland Power to keep their energy usage at a minimum to help Hydro and Newfoundland Power bring operations back to normal over the coming days.


Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Holyrood Thermal Generating Station Nalcor Energy Trans-Canada Highway Holyrood terminal

Geographic location: Holyrood, Newfoundland, St. John's Cat Arm Whitbourne Northern Peninsula Bay D'Espoir Cape Broyle

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Recent comments

  • winston
    January 14, 2013 - 19:28

    Thermal plants are all historical infrastrucure anyway, once we belatedly accept that the slo-mo climate crisis is just getting worse every year. If we don't accept the implications of global heating, then it won't be slo-mo anymore. We Newfies might rejoice at warmer winters, but only if they currently live very high above sea level.

  • Old salt
    January 13, 2013 - 15:14

    Without getting into details, it just seems that our power handlers may have fumbled the ball somewhere along the line. A great deal of hardship ensued and the sick, elderly and young paid the physical price.. Aside from that aspect, look at the agencies that divvy-up our energy dollars. start with Nfld Power, then Nfld Hydro, then Nalcor and finally Fortis. Each has a budget,each has employees, each has property rent, maintenance and operation. Each has pension plans, bonuses and travel allowances. Given all of that, I wonder just how much a kwh of electricity would cost if one agency sold us the power.

  • Harold
    January 13, 2013 - 11:13

    we need Dennis Browne back ASAP, cathy are you listening?? your flock is getting restless.

  • Oy vey
    January 13, 2013 - 10:41

    All the moaning and crying on here is making me sick, @John What do you mean NL Hydro dropped the ball? Can you expand on that? It was a big storm and they did everything they could to get to the plant as soon as they possibly could. @Edmud they probably could have had the generators back up, but what about the transmission lines that went down? Are you going to bawl and cry that NL Hydro didn't have people at each and every pole? Give me a break! Bunch of townies sobbing when they have to go through the slightest bit of discomfort, sickening.

  • Observer
    January 13, 2013 - 09:46

    I agree with Edmund but I think he missed an important point. Politically, we are supposed to think, "We need Muskrat Power" but no amount of power will be enough if the powers behind power do not use common sense. Follow the rule: Grandfather, Father, Son, and always have a backup. If they thought they saved a little cash by not putting the people in place ahead of time then they were sadly mistaken. Also, according to the chatter, the Kenmount Road area was one of the first districts to get the power back. I thought all the businesses were shut down because of the storm, why would you not bring up the residential areas before the areas that just soak up the extra juice.

  • lonenewfwolf
    January 13, 2013 - 07:30

    We need to upgrade our grid, plug in some wind and nationalize nlpower before these guys run us off the cliff with the deregulation scheme. Lavalin, Emera and Fortis DO NOT HAVE OUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART. Lord only knows what ends they would go to to get 'er done...when opportunity knocks (as in this storm). Just sayin'

    January 13, 2013 - 07:23

    Without power the generators cant run?? What a statement to make. GENERATORS are driven by prime movers which in turn are driven by diesel fuel. When a generator sees an overload, it is suppose to shed load in preferential trip mode, dumping blocks of power in a systematic fashion No blackouts necessary This is done by the protection relays in place for this purpose alone. Maybe some training is necessary for the so called OPERATORS.

  • Anon
    January 12, 2013 - 21:57

    Thanks for turning the heat back on b'ys. You did good.

  • Mister D
    January 12, 2013 - 18:15

    God help us! If we cannot guarantee power from 30 kms outside of the city in poor weather, what kind of pot will we be in with power supplied from Labrador?

  • Jack
    January 12, 2013 - 17:42

    Obviously, Nalcor and Newfoundland Power were grossly unprepared for the "Great Blizzard of 2013". When the Greater Halifax Area experienced their superblizzard in February 2004, known as "White Juan", which dumped nearly twice the snowfall amounts as the St. John's blizzard coupled with strong winds and even thundersnow (snowfall with lighting), even though the roads were impassible, their power outage was minimal or even non-existent at all. I should know, I was living in Halifax during "White Juan" and even its namesake, Hurricane Juan that hit the city on September 29, 2003. While Halifax didn't experience significant power disruptions from "White Juan", Halifax Regional Municipality and the Nova Scotia Government still implemented a state of emergency and strict nightly curfews in an effort to get rid of the snow on the streets. Because most of Nova Scotia had minimal power disruptions from "White Juan" but St. John's experienced power disruptions that effected an entire province, its obviously that the Avalon Peninsula area came unprepared. Lessons learned from "White Juan" and the "Great Blizzard of 2013", don't come unprepared even if the weather forecast changes. Perhaps Nalcor and Avalon Peninsula area communities can learn alot from the Nova Scotians on how to prepare for future superblizzards like "White Juan" (Halifax) or "Great Blizzard of 2013" (St. John's).

  • Winston Adams
    January 12, 2013 - 16:15

    Well John , what's this by you , a critism of Hydro? What ball did they drop? I don't see where they dropped a ball. Perhaps you understand it better. I don't have the full story , so it is premature to say. But is obvious to see how important Hoyrood is for peak load and backup. Now consider this- Mf is a thousand miles away whereas Holyrood is 30. MF must reliability , consistantly overcome dozens of obstacle that winter storms and normal problems can present. With this problem my power in Logy Bay was back on for an hour after 8 hours which boosted my heat, and then went off, but back on full time after another 6 hours. My house temp initially dropped to 64 F then back up to 71 , then down to 69 when it came back to stay. That's not bad, but mostly because outdoor temp was not very cold. Now MHI cautions that MF outages could be 30 days down time or more! Wake up ,John. Consider the Alpine region buffeted by high winds and laden with salt. And that's only one issue. For 10 billion we should expect 99.999999 degree of security, not the potential of 30 plus days of power shortage. Hydro blew it? Not with this, from what I read so far. But it is a red flag of what real blowing could be. And the title of this article "Power demand overruns supply" is misleading. We are at the freezing point , so Holyrood should have needed only a small to medium load, nowhere near it's capacity. The article reads" the amount of energy demanded by homes and businesses on the island was surpassed by what was being supplied to the isolated grid" That implies that we have a supply shortage and being an isolated grid is a factor. That is bull. We were nowhere near our peak generation capacity, and we have always had an isolated grid. Sounds like a spin to suggest that if we had MF this would not be a problem. So lets hear the facts as to the cause, and not spin.

  • disgusted
    January 12, 2013 - 15:19

    god love these storms....to prove to us that no.....hydro should not have a rate increase ....they have an overabundance of surplus money from us ...but yet clearly have not done nessecary upgrades ...good luck getting ya increase

  • sc
    January 12, 2013 - 14:51

    Does anything work reliably here? A short while ago there was a problem with the water supply in the city because the back-up generators didn't work (still haven't heard why). Now a storm knocks out 3 different generating stations and no one can provide an explanation. I wonder where else those living in a capital city can't count on a reliable supply of water and/or electricity.

  • John Smith
    January 12, 2013 - 12:49

    Hydro dropped the ball on this one...

  • Edmund
    January 12, 2013 - 12:07

    "Not sure" and "We don't know" are not acceptable answers from Nalcor / Hydro and NL Power. This whole province had 3 to 4 days warning that this storm / blizzard was going to be huge and we as citizens, who pay some of the highest home energy prices in the country, were preparing for it by having extra food, shovels and other sundries to get through this once in 20 to 30 year extreme weather system. WHY COULDN'T THESE ENERGY SERVICE PROVIDERS DO THE SAME AND HAVE CREWS LOCATED IN THOSE PLANTS WHEN THEY KNEW FULL WELL THAT WITH WEATHER LIKE THIS THERE IS ALWAYS A POWER INTERRUPTION OF SOME SORT. With a little common sense the experts at these utility companies could have had power restored much sooner that they did. For a large portion of general public to have to wait from 16 to almost 24 hours for power is not acceptable in this day and age. I will bet anything that they will all be in attendance at the PUB hearings on Monday morning sipping their coffee well before the hearing starts. They should start proving that they can provide us proper service before they look for rate increases simply to fatten the wallets of their shareholders to a 10% return when the rest of us have to settle for 3 or 4% (if we are lucky) or have anything left to invest aftyer paying the atrocious rates being charged by them. We have had enough excuses, now start putting some of our energy costs back into infrastructure and staff who can make sound operational decisions to properly protect our homes and general well being.

    • soooo true
      January 13, 2013 - 17:58

      Edmund you could not have put it better.

  • Winston Adams
    January 12, 2013 - 09:54

    Ashley, there has been calls to turn off any unnecessary appliances etc to avoid additional tripping , when bringing back the service. This seems to make sense, except that 95 percent of the load in the houses is for heat and hot water. Now the Take Charge promotion of set back thermostats misleadingly promotes saving a lot of energy. But, with a power failure you cannot adjust these down. They are automatically set to use all available capacity once the power comes on. Unlike the manual thermostats, where the owner could, in advance, turn off bedroom units and leave on living room heat, thereby allowing neighbours some power and a better return to normalcy without more failures. Ask Nalcor, Hydro, and Nfld Power, to explain this contridiction: promoting auto set back thermostats, while asking customers to restrict enery use after power failure, when in fact they can do virtually nothing to help that situation.The result being a slower return to normal and longer outages,and more hardship for customers. And I would appreciate hearing from you on the response from the power companies.I'm at 726 6512

    • David Wright
      January 13, 2013 - 08:36

      Winston, from what I understand of your posting you are referring to thermostats which control electric heat only. I have an oil furnace with a set back thermostat and I most certainly can turn it down or off if necessary. As to not being able to shut off electric heat you make a misleading assertion. You have breaker switches on your service panel which can be used to cut power to individual heaters in an emergency or for service. What happens when you set one those breakers in the off position? No heat. The is no contradiction on the part of either Nalcor or Newfoundland & Labrador power Finally you are only partly right.when you imply that reducing individual consumption makes more power available for other users. During a major outage power needs be restored incrementally. There's not one big old switch down at the Holyrood Generating Plant. Think of it this way. One doesn't rev an engine to the max and let the clutch go. But given the chill wind on Friday 11, perhaps you were intending more heat than illumination with your posting.

  • snowman
    January 12, 2013 - 09:33

    are we running in the footsteps of Hydro Quebec? when a dark cloud passes over the power goes offline? we pay top dollar for out hydro here in Newfoundland, we expect power to be available when we want it.