People deserve power they can rely on

John Crosbie
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As I write this, the “crisis” we have been experiencing as consumers of electrical energy has continued to improve. That’s fortunate, since a reliable supply of electricity is a vital service if one is to have a comfortable existence at all.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s stated opinion, that we have not been experiencing a crisis, with the interruptions we’ve all experienced in the supply of electricity to our homes and businesses, stirred controversy, and rightly so.

On Jan. 6 she insisted that the province “isn’t in crisis and things are under control.”

Public reaction indicates otherwise.

A crisis is defined in the New American Webster Handy College dictionary as “a decisive point or condition; a turning point; a climax.”

As everyone knows, the provincial government has a Crown corporation, Nalcor, that is very much involved in the provision of electricity, working hand in hand with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and the private-sector Newfoundland Power.

Do we have a crisis in our electrical supply system? I tend to heed the opinion of Newfoundland Power CEO and president Earl Ludlow, quoted in The Telegram Jan. 4 as saying ,“I’ve been at this now … I’m going to say 34 years, and I have never seen this happen — the rotating of power outages and shortage of supply.”

Ludlow put recent events in the right context.

Most people think it was a crisis, particularly everyone who lost power to their business or residence. Newfoundland Power has 250,000 customers and, as Ludlow noted, “The reliability of the system is paramount.” According to The Telegram, the maximum capacity of the generating assets of Newfoundland Power, Hydro and their largest customers is now about 1,900 megawatts. Normally demand has been peaking below 1,600 MW, but the system for the last few days, when the power outages commenced, was “maxed out,” as Hydro’s Rob Henderson told reporters.

The explanation for the problems experienced in the last week is that one of the largest generators on the island, Unit 3 inside the Holyrood oil-fired power plant, was operating at only one-third of its capacity as a result of a failed fan attached to the generator. It also happened that two gas turbine generators used as backups in the province were down and in need of maintenance work, one at

Hardwoods in Mount Pearl and the other at Stephenville.

Henderson, a vice-president of Nalcor and a lead at Hydro, said that “having Holyrood at its full capability and the two gas turbines online would be enough to handle the power demand currently

being faced.”

We have to hope that demand will drop as temperatures rise and that temperatures do rise, so the fixes can come quickly.

We have a generator where we live in Portugal Cove–St. Philip’s, first installed 20 years ago to deal with whatever emergencies might arise, but this is the greatest test it has been put to yet. It

meant we were able to survive in relative comfort during these days of uncertainty. We did

experience interruptions of power on four or five occasions, though, when rotating power

outages were used to attempt to deal with the shortage of supply. We heeded the advice not

to use washers or dryers or other heavy users of power during those critical times. But

because of the unusually cold temperatures over a number of days, many people suffered

great discomfort with power cut off to avoid crashing the system, particularly older people

and those living in institutions.

It was interesting to find out that Newfoundland Power has some ability to generate

power, but not much, and to learn that it purchases 92 per cent of the power it distributes to customers from Hydro.

As Ludlow pointed out, they couldn’t supply what they didn’t have. The situation was certainly

at a crisis point when we discovered that the outage initially left more than 190,000 Newfoundland

Power customers without power.

As Hydro explained, colder temperatures prompted an unusually high demand for energy.

Then, when the transformer caught fire at Hydro’s Sunnyside terminal station, there was a massive collapse during a substantial winter storm.

During a Jan. 6 news conference, Nalcor president and CEO Ed Martin explained that Hydro has not replaced power generators that are past their life expectancy, even though those units had been identified as obsolete and a risk to the system. Hydro’s gas turbine plants at Stephenville, Hardwoods and Holyrood are more than 30 years old, while the generally accepted life expectancy

is between 25 and 30 years, as noted in Hydro’s own capital budget application filed with the Public Utilities Board (PUB).

The three generators at Holyrood have also reached or exceeded their expected service life of 30 years. Hydro has said “condition assessment and selected life extension will permit them to operate reliably until 2020,” but one has to be dubious about that conclusion in

view of recent events.

At the news conference, it was also revealed that Hydro has delayed submitting documentation to the PUB in recent years regarding plans for Holyrood. The PUB has apparently ordered Hydro to submit a detailed plan to help it assess what might need to be spent at the plant between now and 2020, when decommissioning is expected to begin as Muskrat Falls will by then be up and running. Hydro has the intent, but has not sought approval for a new power-producing turbine for the island.

Why not? It’s a relevant question.

Citizens deserve to know when such necessary steps are going to be taken to deal with this admitted inadequacy in the equipment.

I was pleased to hear that our provincial government is ordering a review of our experience with power shortages since last weekend.

It is certainly necessary to assure the public that this situation will not be allowed to recur in so far as it is humanly possible to prevent that happening.

Over Christmas, there was an excellent analysis on the Muskrat Falls project in an opinion piece by Dave Short of St. John’s in the Jan. 4 Telegram, explaining in a constructive manner just why the Muskrat Falls project is needed. He wrote, “The harsh truth of the matter

is that many of us, currently living in Newfoundland and Labrador, would not survive

winter if sufficient energy was not available.”

He also wrote, “instead of just criticizingthe integrity of the professionals at Nalcor, we should be

thankful that they had the fortitude to investigate the need for additional future

energy and to provide solutions to the problem.”

I want to thank all of the wonderful employees of Newfoundland Power, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Nalcor involved in dangerous and rigorous work throughout this

emergency. Everyone I speak with expresses appreciation for the great trials they have

undergone and overcome.

As far as news coverage went, it was comprehensive and up to the moment — an essential

public service that was carried out by all the news media.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the provision of electrical services to the public of this province has reached a turning point; a climax. ... In other words, a crisis.

John Crosbie welcomes your feedback at

Organizations: New American Webster Handy College, Newfoundland Power, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Public Utilities Board Sunnyside terminal

Geographic location: Holyrood, Mount Pearl, Portugal Cove Stephenville Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 12, 2014 - 11:14

    Here is an excerpt from a NL Hydro letter to the PUB in 2012 ----- ""Please be advised that Hydro is withdrawing four projects from its 2013 Capital Budget Application. These are all Holyrood Thermal Generating Station projects and are being withdrawn from Hydro's 2013 application due to refinements and changes in the anticipated deployment of Holyrood with the sanctioning of the Muskrat Falls project" --- NOTE -- one of these cancelled projects refers to fixing a vibration problem recently mentioned as a concern for one of the Holyrood turbines. Go to to link to a copy of the letter.

    • Fred Penner
      January 12, 2014 - 13:00

      Why did Hydro cancel the proposed projects? You don't quite discuss that....well, all of the projects were optional upgrades to existing systems which were deemed to function sufficiently well to carry the unit to the end of its useful life...when Muskrat Falls comes online. Why perform more maintenance on a device than is required? In fact, NL Hydro is saving the province money by lending a critical eye to unnecessary maintenance and should be aplauded for it.

  • Just sayin
    January 12, 2014 - 09:11

    Mr Rogers, sir , I wish to further say that Mutton Chops says we should not criticize the professionals at Nalcor: who are planning more energy supply and solutiions, via Muskat Falls. Now with 1950 MW of island firm supply and a loss of generation of 250 Mw leaves 1700 MW of supply. We have had winter peaks in the past at 1600 MW . This peak was at 1532 MW. That should have left us a comfortable safety margin. 1700 minus 1532 = 168 MW reserve, so why the blackouts??? Can Mutton Chops or the professionals at Nalcor do basic arithemic? We need real professionals to question the phony professionals, rather than accept John patting these guys on the back. We have had far too much of that from Dunderdale. The inference is this: if these guys cannot reliability operate our island systems, where we have one of the best rates in the world of reliable hydro power, needing short term thermal backup, and a low maintenance cost of 100 million a year, can they be relied on to deliver us power from a thousand miles away at an immense cost of 8 billion plus, with all the inherent risks Mother Nature holds? Seems priorities are screwed up, no? We need to go back to first principles: evaluate the combination of practical solutions that were not even addressed, because some options were sidelined before we even started. Otherwise we are in for one hell of a mess come 2017.

  • Cashin Delaney
    January 11, 2014 - 11:35

    Is there a character limit on these cheer leading letters? I believe there is. A man of limited character is necessary to go so longwinded about such a mundane topic that needs maximum spin. One spin, is for the old. Babies get no play from the ancient, but the old institutioned are meantioned. Out for himself, and his kind, always, is Johnny C ME. Imagine you have no vested interest in politics or it's supporting economy. Pretend you wrote this letter. Read it. Laugh. Cold weather cannot be the blame for this, it is just not that simple. Is this what weather modification really is? Media and an old agit-propping govt goat redefining what our climate is perceived to be as an excuse for neglected infrastructure. John C, do you read the paper? Trevor Taylor already tipped his hat to all the workers, blah, blah, blah, etc. and sucked up to the media of course. David Short's HARSH TRUTH letter, which I call cheer leading, but you refer to as analysis, is indeed something to be analysed isn't it. At least Dave is awake and keen enough not to state any facts, unlike Crosbie who has gone headlong into Cyril and Maurice, and lost. Yes John, we once lived in a world where the old were respected, but remember that you earn respect. So long as you and Richard Gwyn waste your twilight years pumping horseshit, I worry and wonder what could capitulate 160 combined years of crummugeon? So, the cold, Mother Nature, got by the media unannounced, eluded the Farmer's Almanac, a cold so brutally coldish, it was unseen by our president crummugeons at Nalcor, Hydro and NL Power? Sounds plausible. Yes. The cold is a simple explanation. Great analysis. Nothing at all to do with salutary neglect to produce a problem, to produce a "crisis", to induce a predetermined solution. Smart meters, which will fix all our radical monopolized consortiums problems but none of the consumers problems. How does a fella that put on a permanent seal skin tuxedo 20 years ago know its so cold anyway?

  • Virginia Waters
    January 11, 2014 - 11:27

    I respect Mr. Crosbie. I think, on balance, he has represented NL well in Ottawa and here in St. John's. But assuming this is his own work - it's certainly not his best. The point of this rambling piece is unclear. It offers nothing that a dozen other journalists and columnists haven't already addressed - better and more accurately. If there is one take-away from his column it is that he is no longer squarely in Dunderdale's corner. Mind you, he is still as staunch defender of Muskrat but his exception to the premier's characterization of the blackouts as a non-crisis undermines the last shred of credibility she might have had. Ironically, the old Crosbie (which paradoxically I guess means the young Crosbie) would have railed against anything even half as threatening fiscally as Muskrat. He nearly sank the new Moores' government with the elimination of the baby bonus and actually did sink the short-lived Clarke government with his austerity budget. With his reputation for fiscal prudence, it is difficult to square his support for Muskrat. As Konrad Yakabuski noted in his column in Thursday's Globe, the cost per megawatt for Muskrat is double that of the concurrent Romaine project in Quebec - and the latter project has been widely criticized by experts as uneconomic. The greatest irony is that Muskrat was presented as cheaper than the island-only option which would require the upgrading of Holyrood. And yet most analysts agree that NALCOR will have no choice but to spend the money to upgrade Holyrood that it identified as a saving in its Muskrat option. A 1200 km transmission line from Labrador would otherwise leave the island exposed to very type of crisis Mr. Crosbie agrees we cannot afford.

  • Cyril Rogers
    January 11, 2014 - 08:32

    Mr. Crosbie, you just told us why Muskrat Falls is NOT the answer to the power shortage but is, rather, a prime reason why we had these rolling blackouts and power losses to begin with. It is, in my opinion, the government and NALCOR's obsession(or preoccupation, if you prefer)with Muskrat Falls that has delayed necessary upgrades and replacement turbines, generators, or whatever for the Island portion of the province. I am one of those people who have questioned the validity of this project almost from Day One and it is impossible to isolate the problems now faced by people on the Island from the fanciful decision to build MF. The rationale has changed several times, the government and NALCOR have rigged the debate, and they have sold any possible benefit from MF to Nova Scotia for a pittance. How can you not question the integrity of these people when they have stymied the process and hide behind Bill 29 and other impediments? Please tell us that, Mr. Crosbie. I am personally disappointed in your stance on this issue, given your stature and your achievements on behalf of the province in your lifetime……. and is troubles me to challenge your basic assumptions about MF, but challenge it I must. You have achieved far more than I could ever hope to but, sir, I believe you are totally wrong on the need for MF. That we may need RELIABLE power, I have no doubt, but the most wasteful, costly, and extravagant waste of resources that is MF, is not the answer. Others, far more versed in the available options than I am, have presented all kinds of viable alternatives but this government has become blind and arrogant, sir.

    • Just Sayin
      January 12, 2014 - 08:30

      Mr Rogers, John's logic and argument is so poor that I feel is appropriate to point out your reference to him as SIR is inappropriate. Mutton Chops comes to mind. For God's sake man, he didn't even know Nfld Power owned some generation! Those plants at Petty Hr , Heart's Content etc. I suspect Mutton Chops may own shares in Fortis who owns Nfld Power. If so he likely knows their dividend rate. And John had his generator to fall back on. Great if we could all afford one. And the unreliability of power from Muskrat, where a downed structure in winter can take a month or longer to repair, means John should keep his generator in top notch conditions, and have a special reserve of fuel. John needs to do his own planning, as Nalcor and our power companies are pitiful.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 11, 2014 - 07:20

    John, you should at least get your facts straight.--------- Nalcor's report to the PUB stated that during the recent problems with the energy supply, peak demand reached 1,532 MW --- that is more than 400 MW BELOW what Nalcor reports is the island's so-called "NET" (that is FIRM) capacity of 1,958 MW ----- "MAXIMUM" capacity is closer to 2,500 MW. .... Over the last 12 years our AVERAGE PEAK demand has exceeded 1,532MW by more than 20MW and on 6 of those 12 years, peak demand has exceeded it by 70 MW ----- so why the problem now? Holyrood has a NET capacity of 490 MW . Even with 2 turbines fully out, our Net production capacity should have exceeded our so-called peak demand by 100 MW (also, the other 2 turbines, Hardwoods and Stephenville, in 2010 provided less than 1/10 or 1% of our energy needs. So how much of an issue were those outages really? Something does not add up ---- not just Nalcor's numbers.

    • FictionOrFact
      January 11, 2014 - 09:49

      Maurice, it is YOU who needs to get his facts straight. You continually quote the Hyrdo system peak numbers and represent them as island peak. The 1532 MW you refer to is the NL Hydro "system" peak - the generation that Hydro owns and contracts for. The AVERAGE PEAK that you then refer to is the "island" peak that not only includes NL Hydro's "system" generation, but also what other generators on the island were producing. Today, in addition to the NLH "system" the island has significant generation assets at Deer Lake Power (about 121 MW) and at Newfoundland Power (about 138 MW) - this data is in the presentation NLH gave to the PUB and is at - so when you compare numbers you should be more carefull that you compare the RIGHT numbers so as not to confuse people. On the day in question in which you quote a peak load of 1532 MW for the NL Hydro system, you need to add to that number the load that ws being served from the generation that was also coming from Deer Lake Power and NP. As you are also aware, there were many customers that were not on the system at that time due to the rolling outages, so the load would have been even higher. You ask "Why the problem now?" - even with the loss of some significant industrial load over the past few years, the generation that was there, is still there. What has changed is significant and undeniable residential and commercial load growth along with some new industrial loads. We can't just put our heads in the sand and say we don't need to do anything. And misrepresenting the numbers will not make the problem go away. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts!

    • Steve
      January 12, 2014 - 08:34

      Keep at it Maurice. You're the only person on here who makes sense with regards to this whole debacle. Thank you! Keep up the good work. We newfoundlanders need someone like you to keep putting the truth and facts out rather than the uneducated opinions or bias we see all too much from these articles relating to MF and the power debacle.

    • Maurice E. Adams
      January 13, 2014 - 09:33

      Industrial demand/usage (essentially located in western and central NL) went down from 18% of NL Hydros' generation in 2004 to 3% in 2009.. Clearly, changes and upgrades to our distribution system could have and should have been made to accommodate that shift. So, while there may very well have been a NL Hydro "system" peak, the SYSTEM's ability to accommodate the shift in demand from western/central industrial to Avalon residential should have been upgraded/changed to meet such a change.