Feeling powerless

Gerry Phelan
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I felt like a crook as I slithered from room to room in my own house, turning thermostats up just a notch. I boiled and reboiled the kettle, got out the battery-operated candles and flashlights, and waited. The hydro-gods weren’t getting me this time.  

Last weekend, we made it through another of our familiar winter storms. On Friday, I delighted in hearing a Newfoundland Hydro representative tell us we had plenty of power, even while predicting that evening that we would experience what would likely be the highest electricity demand this winter. The words I heard on TV and radio were comforting: “We have more than enough generation to meet customers’ demands today,” and “People don’t have anything to worry about. We’re in very good shape.”

Not likely, I told my wife. Wind plus snow plus freezing rain equals power outage.

I don’t want to beat up on Nalcor again, but I know I’m not the only one who has lost faith in the power supply. I’ve already written about power outages in my section of Paradise, so when we lost our heat and lights again for 16 hours on the Jan. 11 weekend because one of the Holyrood generating units gave out, I bit my lip. I figured compared to those without electricity for several days, we’d managed fairly well.

For the past few weeks though, many of us have been expecting the worst, and praying for the best. We’ve been told one of three generators at the Holyrood plant won’t be available for the remainder of the winter, that conservation requests and even rotating blackouts are possible. Honestly, that news came as a shock. Had we spent so much time debating the future power needs that we forgot the present?

The first conservation request came on Saturday. A chance check of Twitter alerted me to the message, but I’d hazard a guess most people weren’t even aware of it. Then again, as my wife reminded me, people would be crazy to use electricity unnecessarily at the best of times. Our power bill has already gone through the roof. It’s been a cold winter.  

Still, as someone who’s been burned more than once by outages that stretched well beyond the originally estimated time, I made a mad dash through the house just to make sure we’d have a few extra hours of cosiness if the lights did go. We cooked some food and settled in for the night.   

I know I was wrong not to heed the conservation request, but there is something amiss with the system. What is happening is unacceptable. We should not have to worry about rolling blackouts or conservation orders. I was in a store Monday morning when the lights went out for a few seconds. More than one person muttered, “here we go.”

Even when Hydro’s operations were at full strength, there were many unanswered questions about why the power goes out so often and for so long. I’m fairly certain no one anticipated the loss of a piece of equipment at Holyrood, but I’d probably be less concerned if I was hearing more about a backup plan.

It’s only February, folks, there may be several stormy months ahead. I hope someone from the government is pressing Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Newfoundland Power to go above and beyond to ensure we have a reliable supply of electricity. People have a right to be mad as hell. The status quo isn’t good enough.

In the meantime, communities might want to make sure they have a plan in place to offer warming shelters for those who may have to endure a lengthy period without electricity. I read that the issue was raised in Conception Bay South recently, and it is something worth doing.

I know we only pay for the power we use, but for customers who suffer through extended outages, perhaps its time the Public Utilities Board considered rebates for services promised, but never delivered.  

For now, I guess I’d better buy a portable generator. Just in case.  

 Gerry Phelan is a journalist and

former broadcaster. He can be reached at


Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Newfoundland Power, Public Utilities Board

Geographic location: Holyrood, Conception Bay South

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    February 15, 2013 - 08:18

    Gerry, I didn't see your name as one opposing the current rate increase application. they say most all are very pleased with power relibility and no one opposes higher costs. so go figure. So we deserve higher prices and less reliable service. And you are not interested in power companies financially helping customers save energy and lowering demand, which can increas reliability.