Many hands in Newfoundland must have reached to turn down the thermostat this week while the minds controlling them wondered, “Wait a minute. Why am I doing this?”
During yet another intensely cold week, Newfoundlanders (but not Labradorians) were again told to conserve power, to limit their use of electricity, to wash dishes by hand and let the dirty laundry pile up, or wash it by hand, too, if there is a nearby stream that hasn’t frozen over.
Some people might have been eager to perform what they saw as their good-citizen duty, but others can be forgiven if they were less than enthusiastic about obeying the latest round of instructions to conserve or go cold in the dark. After all, we already went through this quite recently. Whether January’s energy shortfall was a crisis, non-crisis or semi-crisis, it was certainly a novelty, in the sense that it was new and unexpected.
In January, when the shivering populace was told to conserve, they obeyed. Of course, some people had no choice but to obey, because their power didn’t come back on for a day or so, but it’s safe to assume that if they’d had electricity they would have kept the lights off and the heat down in an act of good citizenship.
Darkness déjà vu
Round 2 of Outage 2014 is different.
This time, you reach for the thermostat or look at the waiting pile of laundry that can be dealt with only between 10:46 a.m. and 3:57 p.m., and you can’t help but feel …
suckered, manipulated, conned, scammed.
You would think an announcement about the impending failure of the province’s power system would come from the top — not from Nalcor Energy nor from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, but from Premier Tom Marshall.
Electricity, like water, oxygen and good coffee, is essential to modern life. When there is a possibility the grid might go kaput, the news should come from the premier, not from some utility company PR spin-master.
What Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) need is a leader who has the courage to put a sign in
his or her office that reads, “The megawatt stops here.”
Instead, the potential electricity shortfall is presented as a public relations issue, not a political issue.
It is political, of course. The primary explanation the people need from the politicians — but have not gotten, probably won’t get and apparently don’t deserve — is why this is happening.
Don’t confuse jargon and numbers with an explanation.
People are told about peak periods and load capacity and so on, but none of that has yet provided a straightforward explanation of why the province’s power supply might fall short of power demand.
NL Hydro’s spokespeople cite maximum production capability of 1,575 megawatts (MW) and that, with conservation efforts, usage comes to within about 100 MW of that limit.
These numbers, while interesting and necessary, are a side issue. People who throw a light switch and expect light to ensue at 186,000 miles per second — rather than infinite darkness — don’t care a whit whether the power is generated by hydroelectricity or by burning fuel. What they care about is whether there is currently a current.
The basic, essential question that remains unanswered is this: what decisions were made, and by whom, that led to the province’s power supply barely able to meet demand?
If Marshall can’t answer that question, he should assign it to someone who can. Nalcor boss Ed Martin, maybe. Not a PR person.
If Marshall won’t answer that question, add it to the list of reasons to vote the Tories out of office at the next available opportunity. See how they like that lack of power.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.