Regulator is right to demand maintenance updates, Opposition says
The Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) has determined the power outages of Jan. 2-8 on the island of Newfoundland were caused by failures of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.
© —Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said Friday the Public Utilities Board did a good job demanding reporting measures from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro
The board has ordered the utility to complete a specific list of maintenance work and equipment checks before the coming winter to try to prevent a reoccurrence.
The PUB has also demanded regular updates on the progress of that work — something Liberal Leader Dwight Ball applauded Friday afternoon.
“What I really like about the report is they’ve taken the initiative to put in reporting measures, so that we prevent a DarkNL 2015, ’16, ’17, maybe even ’18, for what we know of right now,” he said, speaking to the media in the front lobby of Confederation Building.
“But once again, (the report) identified and spoke about the failures we’ve seen last year when it comes to repairs, around transmission and equipment, around Newfoundland (and Labrador) Hydro.”
He said the PUB’s report, published online Friday about 9 a.m., was produced in a timely manner and “reinforces and just reiterates” facts already known after public submissions to the regulator by Hydro, Newfoundland Power and Liberty Consulting.
Specifically, it states a shortage in power generation led to rolling blackouts, followed by widespread outages beginning Jan. 4, after a series of equipment failures.
Hydro “caused or contributed to the outages,” the PUB stated, by deferring scheduled preventive maintenance and testing on its key transmission system equipment; failing to properly complete maintenance and repair work as scheduled; failing to assure critical spare parts and vendor supports were available; and deciding to conduct maintenance on backup generators beyond the standard winter cutoff.
Considering this, the regulator has demanded various updates on maintenance and system checks over the coming months. They include a pair of status reports on the utility’s generators, to be filed on Oct. 1 and Dec. 1, assuring they are ready for cold weather and higher power demands.
While the PUB was critical in its report of the role played by Hydro and the equipment failures, it also noted the causes of many specific equipment failures were still under investigation.
Hydro, meanwhile, is already at work on the items now demanded by the PUB.
“We have begun implementing the actions that have been outlined and we will continue to work closely with the PUB as we move forward,” Rob Henderson, vice-president of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, said in a statement issued shortly after 11:30 a.m.
“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,” he said.
Both Hydro and the PUB noted approval has been given for the purchase and immediate installation of a new, 100-megawatt backup turbine generator at the site of the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station, although the regulator expressed concern the unit — expected to cost $119 million — might not be ready by Dec. 1 of this year.
Hydro says it is currently on schedule to have the extra generator in place and ready to go.
The utility stated the system will also see $160 million in additional capital work within the year.
“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,” Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley said in a statement.
“Restoring public confidence in the province’s electricity system is of utmost importance to our government,” he said.
Consumer Advocate Tom Johnson said he is reviewing the report and would provide comment at a later date.
Another intervener in the power system review is Danny Dumaresque, who said Thursday he might be in a position to comment early next week.
The PUB’s report was an “interim report” only, to address immediate issues. Its power system review will continue with public hearings. The deadline to contact the board, for those interested in presenting at the hearings, is Wednesday, May 21.
A final report from the PUB, on the strength of the system providing Newfoundland’s power, is expected in early 2015.