Premier Kathy Dunderdale made the rounds Monday afternoon, first vising the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro building to get a tour and thank workers, with TV cameras and media in tow; then she went across town to the Nalcor building to do the same thing, and speak to reporters again.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks with Newfoundland Power employees at Hydro Place in St. John’s Monday.
— Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
The message Monday was that things are slowly getting better, and by early evening, only about 1,000 customers were without power.
For the first time since Thursday, Newfoundland Power announced there would be no rolling blackouts in the evening to cope with high electricity demand.
Dunderdale was under fire for insisting the recent electricity disruptions — which began running last Thursday — don’t constitute a crisis for the province.
She has also been attacked by citizens and opposition politicians for focusing too much on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project and failing to protect the reliability of the current power system.
She insisted the province is not in crisis and the government is ticking along well — at least in the buildings that have electricity — but acknowledged some people are having a hard go of it.
“Our government agencies are functioning properly. Where there’s electricity, people are working. Our hospitals are working properly, and life is going on as normally as it possibly can for the bulk of the population,” she said. “However, there is a significant part of the population that is undergoing difficulties, extreme challenges. It is very frustrating. Some of them are definitely in crisis.”
Dunderdale and top officials at the province’s electrical utilities are still issuing calls for energy conservation wherever possible, but Monday’s media appearances seemed to be as much about batting back at her critics.
She said the Liberals and New Democrats criticizing her are contradicting what they’ve been saying for the past several years, when they questioned the increased demand for electricity, and the need for Muskrat Falls.
“The very people who are criticizing us from the opposition parties today were telling the people of the province last year that we were misleading them in terms of our forecast for load demand,” she said. “Today we’re being criticized because we didn’t move more quickly in approving Muskrat Falls and getting that piece of work started, and right up until sanction date, people were saying what’s the hurry. We heard that on a daily basis.”
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has been publicly questioning Nalcor’s planning on grid infrastructure, and whether a third transmission line was needed from the Bay d’Espoir area to the Avalon Peninsula.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael has been calling for an inquiry.
Dunderdale dismissed Ball’s suggestion, and said the Public Utilities Board (PUB) would be able to examine a full report from Nalcor on the outage.
“The PUB will get all of this information. It will review (the report) and make its views on the matter known,” Dunderdale said. “I have absolute confidence in Nalcor. I have absolute confidence in Newfoundland Power, and I have absolute confidence in the PUB and the role they play.”
But some people were losing confidence in Dunderdale as the situation wore on.
Rosalind Henstridge of Airport Heights was in Dominion on Stavanger Drive Monday shopping for supplies. Her cart had some cheese and crackers, canned meats, soup and other things she and her husband could cook outside on a butane stove. Henstridge said it’s not a diet she wants, but they had to do what they can to wait out the outage.
“She’s probably not sitting in the cold like we are," Henstridge said of the premier. “She’s not eating crap food like us.”
Nalcor president and CEO Ed Martin said he still has faith in the electrical system, but he understands if people don’t share that confidence.
“It’s a terrible thing that they’re going through. We’re maximizing our efforts in that light,” Martin said. “We’re confident in the system, but I have to recognize people may have some shaken confidence.”
He said he hopes to build that back over time.