Value of independent inquiry questioned

Andrew Robinson
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Former PUB chair worries government’s review will lack transparency, allow details to be sanitized

A former chair of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) is questioning the provincial government’s decision to pay for an independent review of the electrical system while the PUB conducts its own investigation into the cause of recent blackouts that affected most of Newfoundland.

All three smokestacks at the Holyrood generating station were venting exhaust recently. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

David Vardy said he did not expect the provincial government would make such a move following a recent plethora of power outages that started as rotating ones but later affected more than half of Newfoundland Power’s customers.

“The PUB has a statutory responsibility to take this on, and government should allow them to take this on and let them get on with it as opposed to doing another review, because we think the PUB are the people to do this,” said Vardy, who co-authored a letter to the editor with former provincial deputy minister of justice Ron Penney published in today’s edition of The Telegram.

A transformer fire on Jan. 4 at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro’s Sunnyside terminal station caused a massive outage. Power was restored to most Newfoundland Power customers the following day, with all reportedly back on the grid by Tuesday, though there have been intermittent outages since then.

Nalcor Energy has also indicated it plans to conduct an internal review in light of recent events.

In Vardy’s view, the government’s plan to have its own independent review is more about serving government’s agenda and pre-empting the PUB’s work.

“They want to try and gain control of the agenda by selecting an outside person,” he said. “They use the term ‘independent,’ and ... we’re not sure if the person selected will be really independent and how much control they will have.”

Vardy suggests examples from the past where terms of reference for energy-related reviews were not disclosed would indicate the province may not make matters as transparent as the public would hope.

“The problem we have is that we want things to be transparent, and the experience we’ve had so far is a lack of transparency,” Vardy said. “With the Public Utilities Board, what they do will be transparent, because they will have an open public hearing and people will have an opportunity to look at what’s done.

“If they have experts, reports from the experts will be subject to cross examination by people that have standing at the hearing. That won’t happen if it’s done by government, because I don’t think they have any intention of having a hearing. What you’ll end up with is a consultant doing a report on behalf of government, and government will have the ability to — quote —  sanitize it.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday after announcing plans for the independent review, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she had full confidence in the PUB, but also noted that the regulator will be amongst those groups subject to the independent review.

“You can’t ask somebody to investigate themselves,” she told reporters, adding it may take six weeks for details of the review to become fully formed.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, Newfoundland Power, The Telegram Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Sunnyside terminal

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Recent comments

  • Tom Harris
    January 14, 2014 - 02:20

    I would like to see the PUB deal with their portion of investigation and reporting prior to Government commisioning an independent review of the budget and political management process.. In this same time period a focused effort on a quality engineering reviewwith regard to the entire on island generation and transmission system to determine why a single point failure at Sunnyside could take down the majority of the island distribution system could be performed by a third party, with report issued to government and PUB. This parallel review to PUB work could be performed by a competent electrical engineering firm that has not been involved in what has been designed and put in place i province. The purpose would be verification and assurance that the system is either correctly configured or where changes need to be considered.

  • Terry
    January 13, 2014 - 14:05

    rumor has it they forgot to top up the tanks and was not able to run the generators for fear they run out of Fuel. with less than a week supply on hand and the Tanker not scheduled to arrive till mid Month made the guys at Holyrood very nervous... who is responsible for refueling I wonder???

  • peter
    January 13, 2014 - 11:43

    Ed Martin needs to resign. He either approved of the maintenance that left us vulnerable or he took his orders and never raised a flag that we were all vulnerable. His main job? Keep the lights on. Enough politics - step down.

  • Jon Smith
    January 13, 2014 - 11:30

    Government's intent might be to fashion a report that recommends that Newfoundland Power be absorbed by Nalcor and shut down the PUB (no more NL Hydro) as an overseer/regulator of the power system. Dictatorship does not function well with transparency, oversight and regulation.

  • Jon Smith
    January 13, 2014 - 11:23

    Government's intent might be to fashion a report that recommends that Newfoundland Power be absorbed by Nalcor and shut down the PUB (no more NL Hydro) as an overseer/regulator of the power system. Dictatorship does not function well with transparency, oversight and regulation.

  • Dolf
    January 13, 2014 - 11:21

    Her Ladyship wants to be able to say once again this process is above reproach. A process she'll control from the git-go, like the "independent" Muskrat review. There are so many omissions in that it's no longer funny. It's pathetic, as is her whole government. Give it to the PUB Imelda!

  • Freddie
    January 13, 2014 - 10:45

    Any inquiry will be beneficial. I predict that the result will be that NLH acted with due diligence in all respects. I also am certain that they will be very receptive to any lessons learned.

  • Peter013
    January 13, 2014 - 09:58

    Ok, if the grid is so close to max capacity now, why hasn't there been a call to halt all new Commercial and residential development? If we can't handle a real cold snal for a weekend without massive outages and resorting to rolling blackouts, how are we going to fair next winter with hundreds of new houses and comercial buildings added???

  • J Murphy
    January 13, 2014 - 09:23

    NL Power and Hydro knew there was a problem with one of the generators since the summer and they were to lazy and cheap to fix it then. Now that it is causing more issues, they decide to fix it. Why would we need to investigate and use tax money to only find out NL power and Hydro are not doing the work and their job to run the facility.

  • Estimates Please
    January 13, 2014 - 08:07

    Is there an estimate to the total damages resulting from this debacle? The list of damaged buildings keeps getting bigger. Than there is the loss of business and loss of wages on top of that. Surely it must be in the 10s of millions by now? If not more.... Don;'t worry though. Dunderdale got all her friends investigating her other friends. Nothing to worry about here.