I’ve been lucky: for me, the rotating blackouts and occasional complete power failures have been an inconvenience. I mean, I’m working out
of my basement because the newspaper where I work has suffered
a loss of electricity, but there are plenty of others who have had it far worse.
I have friends with houses with frozen pipes, others who have had multiple rolling blackouts and can’t keep their homes warm – still others who watched rolling blackouts end in their neighbourhoods but saw their own homes stay black.
I’ve had the chance to sit with neighbours making tea in a pot using a blowtorch to boil the water, got to talk about past power failures with other neighbours and how much snow there is. I haven’t had to work in the pitch black like some grocery store employees, emptying coolers and trying their best to keep from losing thousands of dollars’ worth of perishable goods.
So, all in all, I’m in a far better situation than some others.
But I went to sleep last night thinking I’d probably wake up with the power off, and that something I’m used to taking for granted is now unsettlingly fickle. There may be power — there may not. And it looks like that might stretch out into the future — and that, actually, makes me angry.
It is more than a little discouraging to hear Premier Kathy Dunderdale say that we can expect such failures during extreme situations, especially when parts of our electrical grid are “over 40 years old.”
Why? Because plenty of our electrical assets are older than that — and even if they were just 40 years old, think about this.
They would have been 31 years old when Premier Dunderdale’s party took office, meaning the systems were already pretty much at the end of their expected lifetimes.
They would have been 32, 33, 34 and 35 during a period of time when this province ran up sometimes-massive surpluses that could have been used to deal with things like infrastructure replacement.
They would have been 36 and 37 when Dunderdale was minister of natural resources, responsible for overseeing Nalcor, once again while oil profits rolled in.
They would have been 38, 39 and 40 while she was premier.
Aging for years
Newfoundland Hydro has been pointing out how these assets have been aging for years now. The information has been there; the political will to solve the nuts-and-bolts problems has not.
We got buy-ins into the oil play and plans for megaprojects and promises that we would become an energy warehouse. An energy warehouse? The way it looks right now, we can’t even operate an energy strip-mall.
The government didn’t deal with the problems it knew about — and now, we’re being told that the panacea is a project that, frankly, is going to make massively expensive power and ship it great distances over mountains with extreme icing — a line where the repair time could be a month or more, not days.
And if you really want a scary thought, you can consider the fact that the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board was told during hearings that the repair time for a deep-water issue with the Maritime Link was eight months — but that the proponents expected that any problems (the probability they are predicting is something like once every 14.5 years) would take place in shallow water and only need weeks to repair, if they can actually contract the vessels needed to do the work.
All of that, though, is well into our futures. Years, in fact. Right now, we have to deal with the mess we have.
The point is that this is all costing more than just lost power sales: an emergency shutdown at the Come By Chance oil refinery following a Newfoundland Hydro problem last February cost the refinery millions of dollars. Chances are the latest power failures will cost just as much. There’s the damage to people’s homes and businesses, lost productivity, lost confidence for businesses that might want to operate here.
You can call it a challenge if you like. Perhaps there are better, less printable words.