Power shortage continues as storm begins

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Newfoundland residents asked to continue to conserve electricity

Strapped for power to meet the demand on the island of Newfoundland, the province’s utilities are into final preparations to face the added stress of a winter storm.

Newfoundland Labrador Power's systems control centre in St. John's.

The island’s power system has been on rolling blackouts since Thursday afternoon, as a result of unusually high demand paired with supply problems at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

“Again, we’re just getting ready to go into the suppertime hour, where the chances of having to take more customers off and do more of these rotating power outages is more likely,” said Gary Smith, the vice-president of customer operations and engineering at Newfoundland Power, during a press conference this afternoon at Hydro Place in St. John’s.

At peak demand on Thursday, 35,000 to 40,000 customers — that is, homes and businesses — were intentionally left without power.

Smith said Newfoundland Power has also called back staff from scheduled vacation time and positioned line crews and contractors towards the eastern half of the island, to address any failures in the system that might result from the weather tonight and cause added problems.

“We have been in preparation mode for that all day today,” he said.

Environment Canada is calling for 15-25 centimetres overnight, with the snow ending before morning. The wind is expected to gust as high as 90 overnight, as the windchill brings temperatures down to -25C.

Meanwhile, the temperatures Saturday are expected to run to -30C with the windchill. It is the same level as the cold that Hydro says has been driving unusually high demand for power by residential customers this week.

“We expect this (power) situation will continue into tomorrow ... We will be working to minimize any impact on customers,” said Rob Henderson, vice-president at Nalcor and lead at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, during the same press conference.

“It’s important (also) for customers to be aware that they should be conserving in this situation. That will help to minimize the impact on customers. It will also help a lot when we bring customers back on,” he said.

It’s important (also) for customers to be aware that they should be conserving in this situation. Rob Henderson, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro

He suggested people turn down the heaters in their homes and even turning off heaters in any rooms not in use.

Away from the press conference — moving back and forth throughout the day between Newfoundland Power offices on Duffy Place in St. John’s and the Newfoundland Power energy control centre — the utility’s president and CEO Earl Ludlow was asked about the storm.

“Typically we as a utility, a distribution utility, with multiple hundreds of thousands of poles, do not experience too much difficulty with snow and with wind. It’s wet snow and ice and wind that when it comes together, that’s what causes the mechanical failures,” he said.

“There’s a possibility that we will have some difficulties tonight. The real problem is if the system goes down or a part goes down where it’s scheduled to be -12 degrees (without the windchill factor) and that circuit or those houses cool down and we turn it back on … we’re picking up a whole lot of load and that makes it that much more complex.”

Ludlow said safety is a first priority and asked people to follow instructions on all supplemental power supplies, warning against operating generators inside of a home due to the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning.

He said Newfoundland Power will continue to avoid pulling power from feeder lines supplying power to hospitals, seniors homes and other sensitive locations.

The provincial government has issued a warning for people living on the island to be prepared for outages.

"Never use charcoal or propane barbecues, camping heating equipment, or home generators indoors," noted a statement issued late Friday afternoon by Fire and Emergency Services.

"If at all possible, listen to a battery-powered or wind-up radio regularly for information on power outages or further advice from local authorities."

Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Hydro Place Environment Canada Nalcor

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Bill G
    January 03, 2014 - 20:40

    Amazing! How many of the executives, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year each, at these 2 utilities "serving" this province, couldn't see this coming? Best advice is to not Barbeque indoor? Newfoundlanders should be demanding their jobs!

  • Corporate Psycho
    January 03, 2014 - 19:10

    I wonder if the Nalcor Board of Directors are cold tonight?