Rolling blackouts possible: NL Hydro

Josh Pennell
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Damaged generator will be out of service for the winter

A power generator at the Holyrood generating plant was damaged during a blizzard earlier in January. A worker walks past one of three generators at the plant in this file photo.

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.


Organizations: Newfoundland and Lab, Newfoundland Power

Geographic location: Holyrood, Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • kevin walsh
    January 24, 2013 - 00:43

    did that article say that the powers to be at NL Hydro were LOOKING at the generator and FIGURING out how to fix it? Jeese thats a joke...doesn't NL Hydro have experienced people on the payroll that are supposed to be on top of such things as this? You would think we were living in the 30's! One comment here , Third World...Really said something about adding a dictator, Jeese we have one in Confederation Building and one In Ottawa, thats enough! I never heard of so many power outages and the like in years, and now all of a sudden its all the time....I smell a rat...MuskRAT Falls!!!!!!!!

    • Fred Penner
      January 24, 2013 - 20:38

      Are you on dope?

  • Winston Adams
    January 23, 2013 - 14:31

    Maurice say that with a peak load of 1550 MW and , without Holyrood we are only short 50MW. So with 2 of the 3 units at Holyrood working each at about 165 MW,we should ahve no shortage. But it seems our 2 - 230kv lines feeding into the Avalon is insufficient to carry the hyrdo capacity we have on the island. And that is where transmission losses is a factor also. Rather than build a third line in from central , it seems they chose to gamble on running Holyrood and burn more oil until MF comes on. So the gamble has gone against them. It shows poor utilization of our existing hydro resource. Would be nice to verify this and how short are we on transmission capacity from central, 100MW,200MW,300MW?

  • willybee
    January 23, 2013 - 13:40

    I guess paying Nalco executives big bucks hasn't really panned out. They still can't run the Corp. As the old saying goes, they couldn't run a "bulls eye" shop.

  • MBCM
    January 23, 2013 - 13:05

    Fire someone ASAP!

  • Third World... Really?
    January 23, 2013 - 10:39

    ST JOHNS your Third World comment is insulting. So we lost power for a day - I didn't like that either. But we had power for the other 30 days in January and for most of the 365 days in 2012. Try no power... and water... and food... access to healthcare.... Then add a dictator, a few warlords, marauding bands of murderous rapists, a few machetes, some pandemics, and so on. I'm all for Nalcor ensuring their infrastructure is in place, maintained and ready to meet the provinces needs but lets keep things in perspective. FYI - your utility meter would not have measured/recorded any power usage during the outage so technically you didn't pay that much during the outage except for one day of your basic monthly service cost.

  • Don II
    January 23, 2013 - 09:25

    From the point of view of the cynical people amongst us, this could be viewed as a propaganda exercise by the Government of Newfoundland and Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro to demonstrate to the public that the electricity to be generated from the Muskrat Falls project is a necessity and the project must go forward in order to eliminate such power interruptions in the future regardless of the cost.

  • St johns
    January 23, 2013 - 09:23

    @Frankly there is no difference that you live close to the Holywood Station.What people are saying this should not be happening.

  • Colin
    January 23, 2013 - 09:05

    I can sense time of use charges in the air. That is what we have in ON. You pay different rates at different times during the day. Peak hours are the highest, while over night and weekends are the lowest. Our hydro bills have increased over 50% since introduced. NL may have some of the highest rates per kilowatt for electricity, but that doesn't mean that you actually pay the highest hydro bills. My current bill of $88.48 had only $35.52 in actual electricity charges. We also paid $36.38 in delivery, $3.28 regulatory charges, $3.12 debt retirement and $10.18 HST. The ON Clean Energy Benefit rebate of $8.85 brought the final bill to $79.63, for $35.52 worth of electricity. Complicated? Yes. Expensive? You betcha. With reference to your water use, if you want to save money on your water bills you should be insisting on water meters. We have it and love it. You pay for what you use. Use less, pay less. Living in Ottawa, we pay less for our water than our parents do living in outport NL.

  • Jen
    January 23, 2013 - 08:59

    If the failures at the Holyrood 'generating' station are a part of some game of political charades, all I can say is "Last one past Port aux Basques, turn off the lights... that is, if there ARE any"! How in heaven's name are we supposed to attract big industry like manufacturing, etc. if their operations could be turned into turmoil because of this cobweb-style electrical infrastructure failing all the time. Get with the program, NALCOR and whomever else is involved. I mean, how many Hydro executives DOES it take to screw in a lightbulb???????

  • saelcove
    January 23, 2013 - 08:44

    Nalcor loves it

  • Winston adams
    January 23, 2013 - 08:39

    Lighten the load? Now that we have a lost 170 MW unit. That is less than 10 percent of our capacity. We have a bit electric heat load , granted. but efficient heat and hot water across the island can cut demand 400 MW. But this is a 10 year job, and we should have started 10 years ago. Instead of addressing heat loads we are misled that compact lights and electronic standby can do wonders. And the present PUB hearing continues that path of do nothing for efficiency for the next 4 years. Meanwhile other jurisdictions do 10 times more. We will pay the price for this neglect. We will pay more for electricity,have less reliability, need bigger personal back up generators to offset rolling blackouts. And how do you set back those auto setback thermostats that Take Charge promotes? Once you lose power, you cannot change these, and when power is restored they kick on full load, and helps lead to more tripping on the system.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 23, 2013 - 08:27

    Not including Holyrood, the existing installed NET power generation capacity on the island is 1,500 megawatts, while the 2012 PEAK DEMAND was 1,550 megawatts -- a shortfall of only 50 megawatts. Why then is Nalcor using 2 (and sometimes 3) oil-fired generators at Holyrood producing more than 300 and up to 466 megawatts of power to cover off a 50 megawatt shortfall? Why is it that our already existing non-Holyrood generation capacity is not being used to its fullest --- before firing up Holyrood?

  • Cold Future
    January 23, 2013 - 08:21

    This story makes it appear like the storm damaged the generator whereas likely the generator went down during the storm probably because of lack of maintenance or it should have been replaced or upgraded already. Other jurisdictions manage peaks effectively by charging higher rates during peak times. That gives the incentive for people to shift their usage times-why not here? Holyrood is old and should be replaced by a new modern cost effective facility but is being put on hold while we put all our money in the money losing giveaway white elephant at Muskrat.

  • Frankly
    January 23, 2013 - 08:16

    We have blackouts every time there's weather... and we live pretty close to the station in Holyrood. So, what's the diff???

  • St johns
    January 23, 2013 - 07:50

    How does this happen we are not a third world country,or are we? We pay the highest power bills in all of Canada and you are saying that we may have black outs,this is just not good enough.Someone should lose their job over this here it is the middle of the winter in NL not the warmest part of the world.Two weeks ago we lost power for 36 hours my 85 year old mother had to sit in the cold like many others,and we were many of the last to get power back.Not only were we sat in the cold it cost us extra just to feed us something that was hot,if you were lucky to get something open.Then I get my power bill yesterday was charged for 34 days usage,did,nt Nl power relize that I was a day in a half without power,but still charged me for that.What a joke don,t your think maintenance should be carried out on these generators not just when power goes.Or better yet should an extra generator be kept for emergencies.I don,t understand much about these machines but I do know I am paying for a service that is not up to par.

  • original townie
    January 23, 2013 - 07:22

    Gotta love "The Rock". Can't water your lawn or wash your car in the summer due to lack of infastructure and now we have to conserve electricity when we really need it in the winter, for the same reason. Yet our property tax and electricity bills continue to rise. A case of "less for more". You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand increased usage requires infastructure upgrades....there is residential housing and commercial businesses popping up everywhere.