Nalcor called to the PUB

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Debrief on power system failure just a start to fallout

Bundled up against the bitter cold, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro president Rob Henderson hurried into the offices of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) about 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The Electrical Power Control Act empowers the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities to investigate the recent blackouts. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

He was called there, along with others from the province’s power utilities, to provide a formal briefing to the PUB on what has been going on with Newfoundland’s power system in the past week — with industrial customers, businesses and individual residents having faced a series of planned and unplanned power outages.

Henderson was joined by Ed Martin, president and CEO of Nalcor Energy — Hydro’s parent company — for the closed-door session.

At a 4 p.m. briefing, Martin told reporters the meeting was still in progress when he left.

It was a first step for the PUB in looking into the recent power problems on the island. As for what the next step will be?

“It may be several days before the Board is in a position to advise as to any specific additional steps which it may take as part of its

regulatory authority,” stated a notice issued by the PUB.

Prior to its release, The Telegram requested an interview with Commissioner Andy Wells.

“Mr. Wells will be making no comments,” stated a response, provided via email.

Newfoundland Power and Nalcor Energy brass have promised to submit a formal, detailed report on what went wrong with the power system.

Beyond just accepting the report, the Electrical Power Control Act empowers the PUB to actually investigate the blackouts, including public hearings, if it considers such inquiry necessary.

It reads: “Where the PUB believes that producers and retailers collectively or individually will not be able to satisfy the current or anticipated power demands of consumers in the province, the PUB may further inquire into the matter.”

Provincial Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael and Consumer Advocate Thomas Johnson are all calling for a review by the PUB into the recent system failures.

And seated in the belly of Hydro Place in St. John’s Wednesday afternoon, between both Martin and Newfoundland Power CEO Earl Ludlow, Premier Kathy Dunderdale exp-ressed no reservations in relation to such a review.

“I have no issue at all with openness and accountability around this issue.

“We want to know what went wrong and we want to do everything we can to assure we don’t find ourselves in this circumstance again,” she said.

A full and public review will be easier said than done, since a series of legislative changes in recent years have restricted the PUB’s oversight powers for the province’s electrical system.

The PUB still has access to many things, and the ability to insist upon the filing of specific pieces of information.

For example, it can ask for engineering reports completed in relation to a technical problem with a piece of power generation equipment at the Holyrood power plant, or demand numbers showing the uptake in Newfoundland Power and Hydro’s energy conservation programs.

That type of information is regularly gathered during annual capital budget reviews and reviews for rate-setting, through written question-and-answer rounds, posted online.

However, the energy regulator cannot insist to see information relating to the province’s $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls project; any discussions happening in recent years outside of Hydro between Nalcor Energy and the provincial government in relation to power policy; any specific numbers on the water flows and power produced at the hydro power plants in Central Newfoundland and other pieces of information potentially critical in the type of review now being sought.

 While information may be voluntarily offered upon request, legislation enacted in the last two years has set Nalcor Energy, Muskrat Falls and expropriated power assets all outside the reach of the PUB – complicating any response that may yet come from the province and the regulator.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

 

 

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland Power Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro The Telegram Hydro Place

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Holyrood, Central Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Tony Rockel
    January 09, 2014 - 14:49

    “I have no issue at all with openness and accountability around this issue." Yes, Kathy-- the same openness and accountability as in Bill 29!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 09, 2014 - 10:24

    In 2004, 82% of NL Hydro's power load was non-industrial. That is, 82% was 'utility' (primarily residential). 18% was industrial load in western and central Newfoundland...... By 2009, 97% of NL Hydro's power load was non-industrial, primarily residential ---- the industrial load from western and central had been all but eliminated and most of that equivalent load transformed into non-industrial (largely residential) and shifted and centred primarily on the Avalon........ Nevertheless, during that time (and up to now) total island load remained largely flat. Also, during recent power outages, problems were encountered in the switch yards and customers were becoming aware that while generation may have been less than maximum, the "distribution system capacity" also seemed to be failing. This points to the real possibility that with the increased load having shifted from the west's industrial load to the Avalon's residential load, that Nalcor failed to adequately plan for, upgrade and maintain the Avalon's "distribution system capacity" ........... Of course, emphasis on "generation" tends to support those who want to see Muskrat proceed. But Muskrat does nothing to improve our distribution system and a 1,400 kilometer extension cord will likely add to the problem. To see an infographic showing the shift in load from industrial (west and central) to residential (the Avalon), go to www.vision2041.com. ..............Are we being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

  • gb
    January 09, 2014 - 09:07

    I was just looking at the picture of the PUB offices accompanying this arcticle. A picture of a very modest sign and door leading to their offices. You would think with the exorbitant salaries these political patronage appointments pay that the sign and door would be gilded with gold. Just a thought...cut theses salaries in half and I Bet you will still get competant people to fill the positions.

    • chris
      January 09, 2014 - 11:32

      Don't be fooled by the sign. That's was probably put there by the owners of the building! i expect inside is a shangri la of furniture, pictures and mahogany desk's!

    • chris
      January 09, 2014 - 11:33

      Don't be fooled by the sign. That was probably put there by the owners of the building! i expect inside is a shangri la of furniture, pictures and mahogany desk's!

  • Steve
    January 09, 2014 - 06:50

    Still I wonder... Why isn't the RNC investigating this? This is criminal negligence which resulted in deaths, and millions in losses. There should be much more than a PUB inquiry happening here. Documents need to be seized before they are destroyed. Step in RNC!!!

    • Eugene
      January 09, 2014 - 08:38

      Do you also think that the RNC should issue a fine to God for sending cold weather our way? Or fine all of the new houses and business properties owners which add stress to the system over the past few years? Maybe the RNC can seize the properties before their owners hide the fact that they also use electrical power and are adding new stress to the system.

    • Eugene
      January 09, 2014 - 08:40

      Do you also think that the RNC should issue a fine to God for sending cold weather our way? Or fine all of the new houses and business properties owners which add stress to the system over the past few years? Maybe the RNC can seize the properties before their owners hide the fact that they also use electrical power and are adding new stress to the system.

    • Shannon
      January 09, 2014 - 09:23

      Eugene ... I guess you've been drinking the kool-aid. This had nothing to do with weather and everything to do with a complete lack of planning and organization. It was a situation which should have been avoided with proper maintenance and organization. If Nalcor had planned, organized and executed its maintenance properly this would not have happened.

    • joesawyer
      January 09, 2014 - 09:38

      Not sure why some people want to deflect to the weather - windy, -15, 30 cm snow - not unusual. What is way outside of the norm - Holyrood generators - one working, one at 30%. one not working, two gas turbines - neither of them operational !!!!

    • Winston Adams
      January 09, 2014 - 09:50

      Eugene, if you look at last year Nfld Power rate application, there are big discounts for commercial customers to use more energy, and no serious surcharge for residential customers using 400 amp services , and a piss poor conservation plan. And our Consumer Advocate Tom Johnson say little problem. When in crisis they look to the consumer to conserve, conserve.... which means suffer, suffer.... for their incompetence to plan and have good efficiency and demand management inplace.