Calls for conservation as power gets tight

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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The Public Utilities Board (PUB) emailed both Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Monday morning and, looking at available reports and forecasts, asked about the next three days of island power.

The Holyrood Hydro generating plant at dusk Jan. 14. — File photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Hydro’s daily energy forecasts showed a high demand for power, paired with problems in at least three generators, taking away from the available supply.

Given the numbers and forecasted cold temperatures, a decision was made to ask the public to keep energy use to a minimum, and to conserve power where possible.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., both utilities issued news releases and familiar calls for energy conservation returned to the Internet and public airwaves.

The detailed directions are the same as those heard in early January, when customers on the island’s interconnected system, the main power grid, suffered through planned blackouts and unplanned outages from Jan. 2-8.

The request of the utilities for the next three days is again for residents to reduce their electric heat by a few degrees if they can.

They are also asked conserve hot water, avoid using clothes dryers, keep lights off in rooms not in use and other measures of similar kind.

“Hydro has 1,575 megawatts (MW) of generation available on its system, and peak loads over the next three days are expected to be between approximately 1,400MW and 1,500MW,” stated the Crown corporation. “Therefore, Hydro is putting its generation contingency plan in place to respond to the unlikely event that Hydro experiences further issues with its generation, it may be difficult to meet peak demand.”

In the coming days, The Telegram will be taking a closer look at the supply and demand numbers.

Difficulty meeting demand means rolling blackouts or, in the case of an unexpected failure, a sudden outage.

Dalley and the details

Hydro has described the call for energy conservation particularly at peak times for energy use — 7-10 a.m. and 4-8 p.m. — as a precautionary measure.

Minister of Natural Resources Derrick Dalley stated the same in comments issued at about 5:15 p.m.

“Although the call for conservation is a preventive measure, the provincial government is monitoring the situation closely,” he said. “We wish to reassure residents that NL Hydro is taking every precaution to ensure the electricity system remains reliable.”

Hydro reported 145 MW of power production was not available to the system as of deadline Monday, due to a collection of issues.  

Among the problems, a generator at the Bay d’Espoir hydroelectric power plant was reported to have issue with an excitation transformer, leaving its 75 megawatts of power not available to users.

At the Holyrood thermal generating station, Unit 1 needs a repair on two of 12 “guns” that fire fuel into the generator. The fix is not possible until the entire unit can be taken offline, something not likely to happen during the coming cold snap, all according to Nalcor Energy spokeswoman Dawn Dalley. Nalcor is parent to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

The Holyrood unit can still be used, but at 140 MW as opposed to the typical 175 MW max capacity.

And a fuel valve is needed at a gas turbine at Hardwoods, dropping the power available from there to 25 MW.

Dalley said Hydro has confidence in the level of power generation it now has, but added the many moving parts of the generators and the system as a whole mean there are no guarantees there will not be a problem arising resulting in rolling blackouts.

Restoring confidence

“We understand that with the events that happened in January, public confidence in the electricity system was shaken,” she said, adding Hydro’s task is to restore confidence.

She said people have developed a better understanding of the power system and a heightened awareness, demanding more direct information and Hydro is responding.

“You don’t want people to get the feeling the system is not working as it should,” she said, reiterating the current conservation requests are precautionary.

At Newfoundland Power, manager of communications Karen McCarthy said the utility was contacted by the PUB Monday morning about the availability of power.

“It’s definitely a change for the Public Utilities Board to have been in touch with us today to make us aware, yes,” McCarthy said, when asked about the flow of information.

Two issues being addressed in the PUB’s ongoing power system review — a response to the January outages — are the availability of power generators for the winter season and options to meet the 2014-2016 system demand.

The findings on those issues are due to be released in a PUB report May 15.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has indicated new power generators may be added to the island system before the it is connected to the mainland, as power from the $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project comes online — expected in 2017.

None of the options suggested for supplementary power have yet to be put before the PUB and moved through the regulatory review process.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, NL Hydro, Nalcor Energy Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.The Holyrood Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro

Geographic location: Falls

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Recent comments

  • Jack
    March 05, 2014 - 06:43

    Since Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have had enough with being told to conserve power, even when we use it in normal levels, its obvious that Nalcor didn't learn from their mistakes just over two months ago. Once again, due to Nalcor's incompetence, they are obviously not learning from their mistakes and taking it out on us. ENOUGH NALCOR.

  • Burnt Out
    March 04, 2014 - 12:55

    OK.....I have all these Energy Star / efficient appliances; LED / CFL bulbs, basement & attic fully insulated, propane fireplace, etc. So where the dickens is all the power going?? It can't be consumption ... I am definitely not using as much. All of these approved developments over the years is not having its toll ...... same for the municipal water services.....NO PLANNING.

  • Steve
    March 04, 2014 - 12:53

    I went into the local Timmies on Water St today, during the 7-10 AM 'Conservation period'. Every single light and sign in the store was on, and there were NINE television screens in the store, all of which were turned on. Five of them were simply advertising their products/contests. Conservation for me, but not for thee, hey?

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 04, 2014 - 11:13

    Copy of my email earlier this morning to the PUB:------ "Good morning Ms. Blundon. I write concerning the Board's request to NL Hydro of January 2014 wherein the Board required NL Hydro to provide daily reports on the status, not only of NL Hydro's generation systems, but the status of the Island Interconnected System "from all sources". You will note that NL Hydro itself (in its presentation to the Board) describes the Island Interconnected System as follows: Island Interconnected System Supply Installed Capacity Hydro owned and operated 1,507.5 MW Purchased 178.8 MW Customer Owned 259.8 MW Total Supply 1,946.1 MW However, the reports provided by NL Hydro includes an info-graphic with a GREEN line which represents not the Island Intereconnected System capacity from all sources, but only the NL Hydro system capacity (and demand). Accordingly, I would respectfully submit that even though the Board has asked for daily reports on the status of the supply and demand from both NL Hydro's system and from all sources (i.e. the Island Interconnected System), then I would submit that it is inadequate (and potentially misleading, and likely misleading for the general public) for these reports to show (graphically) only the difference between the NL Hydro capacity/demand and not also the difference between the Island interconnected System capacity (from all sources) and demand. I would respectfully ask therefore that the Board consider what seems to be an oversight by NL Hydro, and that the Board request NL Hydro to either replace the info-graphic so as to show the the total Island Interconnected System capacity/status/demand or a separate graph (in addition to the one already provided) which shows the full picture and the full buffer available between what the Island Interconnected NET capacity actually is and the actual demand. Respectfully, Maurice Adams Paradise, NL 773 1564"

  • Jon Smith
    March 04, 2014 - 11:04

    Maggie Carter may have missed something. The nationalizing of Newfoundland Power is probably in the wish list of government. The model proposed for the electrical warehouse is Hydro Quebec. Having Nalcor as the crown corporation clone of Fortis is to incorporate the oil play. The major difference with Hydro Quebec is that the Quebec people have not been in the position to have to subsidize export power like we will until such time as transporting power such long distance becomes an economic proposition.

    • Maggy Carter
      March 04, 2014 - 13:04

      Good point Jon. I suspect you're right - at least from NALCOR's perspective but my guess is that Cabinet has been reluctant. If they were going to go that route, the Island-Interconnect would be the time to do it. The downside is that it will add at least a billion dollars to what is already an enormous amount of debt that the lowly ratepayer will have to service. Ultimately ratepayers will revolt as higher incomes move off-grid or down-grid with new technology, and lower incomes simply go without (the proverbial freezing in the dark). Once rates have been jacked to the point of diminishing returns, NALCOR will come back to Cabinet for annual operating grants (big grief for the taxpayer). NALCOR will in fact argue that nationalizing will achieve efficiencies that offset costs. But, if recent history is any indication, Fortis/Power is a much better managed company than is NALCOR/Hydro.

  • saelcove
    March 04, 2014 - 10:02

    Muskrat falls anyone, Have they convinced you yet,The minnows are doing a fine job little man dan

  • Wondering
    March 04, 2014 - 09:27

    Yes , Ashley, please clarify the Mw capacity issue.

  • Wondering
    March 04, 2014 - 09:20

    Maurice, is the 1956 MW include light and Power small units plus Deer Lake , whereas 1600 MW is Nalcor / Hydro capacity?

  • Maggy Carter
    March 04, 2014 - 08:57

    Is there a problem between NALCOR and Fortis? Would not surprise. At the outset of the PUB hearings, Newfoundland Power took exception to NALCOR's attempt to limit the scope of the PUB inquiry. Newfoundland Power might also be smarting from the side-swiping it took from Dunderdale and NALCOR when she announced the provincial inquiry would include a review of Newfoundland Power. It implied that Newfoundland Power was partly responsible for the blackouts and collapse of the system. The PUB was also thrown into the wringer - a not so subtle suggestion that it too might be to blame for NALCOR's failures. Anything, it seems, to deflect attention away from government and NALCOR as the real culprits. Anyone following this slow-motion train wreck would understand that it was government that stifled any chance the PUB might have had to properly review the Muskrat project. They would also understand that, as a distributor of power not a producer (except for some 10%), Newfoundland Power bore no responsibility for Dunderdale's non-crisis crisis. Was that discomfort I saw on Earl Ludlow's face (Newfoundland Power's top guy) as he stood alongside Dunderdale and Martin? Almost like he was being made to answer for a mess that he had no hand in making. For better or worse, Muskrat is a go. Only time will tell. What is obvious however when looking at the economics of the project is that its only chance of success depends on the benchmark price of oil going north of $150 per barrel and staying there for decades to come. For that to happen unfortunately there would need to be a long string of some very nasty things happening in the world. Do we really want to be cheering for more meltdowns like the present one in eastern Europe as our best bet to stave off a Muskrat triggered economic disaster at home?

  • Guy Incognito
    March 04, 2014 - 08:39

    Incompetence on a biblical level at Hydro..... How did we get in this situation? When Muskrat Falls was started did they stop maintaining Holyrood? And their spokeswoman gets on media saying how they are basically doing the public a favor by letting us know ahead of time there may be trouble...buffoons!

  • Jon Smith
    March 04, 2014 - 07:47

    Stagnant, non rolling, incompetence likely led to the lack of maintenance and upkeep of the Holyrood equipment. Arrogance and political exuberance likely led to the complacency. But hey, there's not been a lot of protests about the miniscule specs of black smoke from the stacks. The Holyrood plant looks like a keeper-lets keep it in game shape for the future.

  • Markus
    March 04, 2014 - 07:39

    I have been in my house now for almost 5 years . Have never had a bill over $350.00 during the winter . This past Christmas my family and I were out of town for 5 days with all thermostats set back to 15 C . No Xmas tree up and no Xmas lights on . Then the rolling blackouts and 24hrs (approx.) with no power at all...And when we were in the (no crisis) we conserved , but yet I had the highest bill ever at over $400.00 for the 30day period from Dec.15-Jan.14...Can anyone explain this?

    • 200V
      March 04, 2014 - 09:16

      Not a lot of people understand how thermostats work. First off, last December was one of the coldest we've had in a long while so comparing to previous years may not be accurate. With crazy low windchills and high winds your house will loose heat at a higher rate than normal. When your house is loosing this heat, your heaters are almost always on trying to maintain the temperature in the room. So setting your thermostats to 15 degrees may not have helped the situation. If your heater is on, its burning the same power at 15 degrees and at 20 degrees (unless you have digital thermos!) Quick question, do you ever get down and touch your baseboard heaters to see if they are on? My guess is no, therefore you have no clue if your heaters were in fact on for a longer period in December than in say October. I think its safe to say your heaters never cut out for the majority of December due to the crazy low windchills sweeping the heat from your home.

    • W Bagg
      March 04, 2014 - 10:16

      You are half right 200V. The larger bills in Dec/Jan can be mostly attributed to your house having to re-heat itself (including the gyproc, studs, furniture everything) to 15 degrees after cooling down for 24 hours when there was no power.

  • Jsut sayin
    March 04, 2014 - 07:27

    Didn't some call for conservation before the power got tight, like last year during the Nfld Power rate application. And Nfld Power said don't worry , be happy, we are conserving plenty with our Conservation Plan. What a joke. There should be a class action case taken against them for misleading people on how good their efficiency and conservation plan is. One of the worst in North America.

  • nerilldp
    March 04, 2014 - 06:44

    Here it is, the 21st century, in a "Have" province (they keep telling us) and they can't keep the lights on. Empty words won't keep me from shivering in the dark.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 04, 2014 - 06:41

    Ashley, can you please explain how only 145 MW is not available on a system that for years now Nalcor has confirmed with the PUB and the public that the total island "NET" (firm) capacity is 1,956 MW (now recently down-rated to 1,946 MW) now cannot handle a peak demand in the 1400-1500MW range ---- when for years since 2002 we fairly regularly had a peak demand around 1,600 MW without rolling blackouts? This math seems to say we should have a 200-300 MW buffer?

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 04, 2014 - 07:16

      math correction --- a 300-400 MW buffer?

  • Roena Marshall
    March 04, 2014 - 06:24

    It seems to me when the weather is colder people may just turn up their thermostats a couple of degrees. As far as daily use of electricity it should not change.