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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org