UPDATE: N.L. Hydro says already started on PUB work list

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Regulator has ordered collection of maintenance, system checks completed

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has issued a statement in response to a report released this morning by the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB), saying they are working on the recommendations. The report lists failures by Hydro that “caused or contributed to the outages” in January 2014.

It also expresses concern a back-up, 100-megawatt power generator that was approved for purchase since the blackouts might not be available for the start of the coming winter and peaking power demand.

Shortages in power supply on the island led to rolling blackouts beginning Jan. 2, turning into widespread blackouts with a fire at the Sunnyside terminal station caused by an exploding transformer and a subsequent collection of equipment failures. Blackouts continued for some power customers through Jan. 8.

As part of its report, extending from investigation into the outages, the PUB issued a four-page list of “key priority actions” for Hydro.

Hydro says work on listed items is already underway.

“We have begun implementing the actions that have been outlined and we will continue to work closely with the PUB as we move forward,” said Rob Henderson, vice-president of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, in the statement issued shortly after 11:30 a.m.

“We welcome independent input and insight as we work together to shape the future of our provincial grid, particularly as we move from an isolated to an interconnected electricity system,” he added.

“We are fully committed to taking the necessary actions to ensure the people of the province are not impacted by outages of this nature in the future.”

The statement says installation of the new, back-up turbine is on schedule.

It adds the system will see $160 million in capital work this year.

The provincial government also responded to the PUB’s report, in a statement issued shortly before 2 p.m.

“We appreciate the recommendations of the Public Utilities Board as they relate to technical advice around improving the electricity system in the province. The work of the Public Utilities Board, as well as reviews undertaken by the Provincial Government, Liberty Consulting Group, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and Newfoundland Power, will strengthen the province’s electricity system to ensure reliability as we transition to an interconnected system,” said Derrick Dalley, Minister of Natural Resources.

“Restoring public confidence in the province’s electricity system is of utmost importance to our government.”

He noted the province is continuing with its own review of the power system, looking into the period as Muskrat Falls comes online, to add to the work of the PUB.

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Earlier story

PUB highlights Hydro failures

Expresses concern new backup won’t be ready for winter

A day late, but not a letter short, the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) has released its interim report on the investigation into the DarkNL power outages of Jan. 2-8, and the readiness of the province’s power system for the coming winter.

On the latter, while having approved the installation of a new, $119-million, 100-megawatt turbine, the regulator expresses concern the additional backup for the island won’t be ready before the first winter cold snap.

“The (PUB) notes that the schedule for the installation of this asset, which is planned to be in service for December 2014, is ambitious and believes that Hydro should give priority to ensuring, to the extent possible, that required work on existing generation and transmission assets is completed by December 1, 2014,” the executive summary of the report states.

The PUB has also set out a list of items — maintenance and system checks — to be completed by power-provider Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro in the coming months.

 “The board has set out significant reporting requirements for Hydro, the first of which are due to be filed on June 2, 2014. In addition, the board will be establishing a process, with regular reporting, to monitor Hydro’s progress on the priority action items that need to be completed before the upcoming winter.”

Meanwhile, the PUB found that the rolling blackouts and sudden outages of January were the result of two problems: a lack of available power to meet demand on Jan. 2-3, leading to rolling blackouts, and “subsequent equipment failures on Hydro’s bulk transmission system resulting in further widespread outages beginning on January 4.”

Every single item identified by the PUB as having “caused or contributed to the outages” falls to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

The list, as stated in the report, includes:

• Hydro’s deferral of scheduled preventive maintenance and testing of key transmission system equipment, including the 2013 scheduled and recommended testing and maintenance on the transformer and circuit breaker at Sunnyside, which failed.

• Hydro’s failure to properly execute repairs and maintenance.

• Hydro’s failure to ensure the availability of qualified resources and vendor support.

• Hydro’s failure to procure critical spare parts for its generation assets.

• Hydro’s decisions on timing of generation asset repairs, notably the Hardwoods and Stephenville gas turbines.

“While it is not possible to determine whether the failures and outages of this past winter could have been avoided had different decisions been made by Hydro, the board finds the number and nature of equipment failures that occurred is unusual, raising questions as to Hydro’s operation and maintenance of its equipment, especially given that this is the second consecutive winter that customers on the Island Interconnected system have experienced widespread outages,” it states.

“Additional investigation in this area will be an important part of the board’s ongoing review.”

Public hearings on the longer-term outlook for the power system are being held in the fall. The deadline for anyone interested in presenting at the hearings is Wednesday, May 21. Those interested are asked to contact board secretary Cheryl Blundon at (709) 726-7600.

The PUB is expected to produce a final report in early 2015, addressing the system’s reliability through the future in-service of the Muskrat Falls hydro development.

The Telegram is reviewing the detailed report. More to come.

Organizations: PUB, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro

Geographic location: Stephenville

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Recent comments

  • Jane Grant
    May 16, 2014 - 11:36

    I am not inspired with confidence in NL Hydro. (Was Homer Simpson was in charge?) It should not have taken a crisis and subsequent PUB directives to keep such a vital service in good if not excellent working order. It was a responsibility to our province that had become complacent and ineffective. The impact on the economy and public is enormous.

  • guy incognito
    May 16, 2014 - 08:16

    Epic mismanagement on the part of Hydro. Complete incompetence.