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.