One of Newfoundland and Lab-rador Hydro's major generators is damaged and out of service for the winter, raising the prospect of rotating blackouts if demand for power can't be managed.
One of three generators at the main Holyrood generating plant was damaged in an intense blizzard earlier this month.
Jim Haynes, vice-president of regulated operations, says NL Hydro is still piecing together exactly what happened and how to fix it, and while a combination of things likely combined to take out the generator, the weather at the time is favoured to be the initiating factor.
The company has a team of internal and external experts continuing to investigate the cause and determine the repairs required to return to service.
What is known is that the generator will be out of commission for the remainder of this winter, and that means energy conservation is a concern.
Even with just two generators working, the company can usually meet power demands in winter, but as a precaution, Haynes says Hydro may ask residential and commercial customers to cut use at peak times.
"We have enough generation available for our forecasted (power) load. If we get a really bitter, unusual cold snap or a lot of high winds, and particularly if we have another generator come offline ... we may have to make that call," he says. "While one Holyrood unit remains out of service, we will be drawing upon our available reserve capacity more often during peak periods. We are following our established contingency protocols to maximize supply, minimize demand and provide enough power for those peak times when electricity use is at its highest."
Highest demand comes between 6 and 9 a.m. and between 5 and 6 p.m. from December to March. Because the majority of the public operate on the same schedule, the thermostats tend to switch on, the washers and dryers get used and people take their showers all at the same time. That puts a lot of pressure on the available energy, says Haynes.
If Hydro starts to feel the power pinch, it may ask residents to curb energy use during the peak periods, Haynes says. But he's not suggesting people give up any of their essential power-using activities, just to curb their schedule slightly.
"If people could move some of those basic activities to 10 o'clock sort of thing, what we do is shave off that peak load," he says. "We're just trying to move that peak a bit."
Haynes suggests doing a load of laundry or taking that shower an hour before or after the peak period times. In addition to that, turning the thermostat down a click and leaving the heat lower in rooms that aren't in use is a good general practice anyway, he says, and one that will be of particular use if the need arises for curbed energy use.
"Every heater, every hot water boiler and clothes dryer ratchets up the load just a little bit," says Haynes.
If that loads gets too high, and the public doesn't curb energy use, Hydro will work with Newfoundland Power to rotate short blackouts.
"We'll only do it if we absolutely have to," assures Haynes.
Every day, Hydro looks at the forecasted load for the province or the amount of energy that's going to be used. This forecast is based on the weather forecast, he says. The temperature goes down and power use, along with the strain on the system, goes up. If rolling blackouts are deemed necessary, Haynes says Newfoundland Power takes a look at a particular area and the load it takes to power it. If it's the amount of power that the grid needs to get back on track, that area might get cut for a short period. Then it'll move on to somewhere else.
"From a utility perspective, sharing the burden, if you will, is a lot better than having one group take the whole outage."
The twin cities will no doubt be affected. Mount Pearl Mayor Randy Simms says he recognizes the situation Hydro is in and encourages residents to sympathize, as well.
"Obviously this is a difficult situation for Newfoundland Hydro that's going to create some real challenges for Newfoundland Power to try and get this generation plant up and running appropriately. I'm sure that the residents of Mount Pearl can be called on to co-operate to limit electricity and do what they can to, pardon the pun, lighten to load."
Haynes says if the need to curb power use is necessary, a public advisory will be released.