Turning up the heat

Brian Jones
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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?”

Why indeed.

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.

Information shortfall

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 bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • Corporate Psycho
    March 07, 2014 - 22:04

    Well said.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 07, 2014 - 15:27

    Typo correction to my last: ---- peak island demand over the last record setting low temperature period was 1,658 MW (not 1,626). All the rest of my comment still relevant with minor correction..

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 07, 2014 - 15:19

    Island peak demand from 2002 -- 2009 (MW):-----------1,592;1,595;1,598;1,595;1,517;1,540;1,520;1,601 ........... Average -- 1,570 MW. (Original source:-- Nalcor).... Our maximum total island peak demand over the last few record low-temperature setting days has been 1,626 MW ---SO WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? What is all the fuss about --- when the Island Interconnected System (firm) capacity is 1,946.1 MW --- see Nalcor's presentation to the PUB. That leaves more than a 300 MW buffer, and more than a 150 MW buffer even with the loss of 145 MW generation capacity. It is misleading in the extreme for Nalcor (and the PUB) to put out daily reports that leave the impression that we have only a 50 MW buffer.

  • Gekko
    March 07, 2014 - 13:33

    As always, it comes down to taxes. You have a great idea there Mr. Jones, let Dwight Ball run on a platform of skyrocketing taxes and heat bills for the foreseeable future to replace our electrical infrastructure, all of a sudden this relatively short power outage (during an unusually cold winter) might not seem like such a crisis after all.

  • Robert
    March 07, 2014 - 12:27

    It is not that long ago that I read that Canadians consume the most energy of almost any country in the world. And that Newfoundland leads the pack here in Canada! Seems to me a little conserving would only put us on par with the rest of the world. The naysayers in all this remind me of those who oppose the seal harvest; they only deal in part truths at best! And I have no idea what motivates either of them!

  • Graham
    March 07, 2014 - 09:57

    The power companies will raise doubts about the minisplit heatpumps, as to the amount of peak demand reduction they provide at cold temperatures. Here's the figure from the NREL , National Renewable Energy Laboratory, inthe USA They did independent research, as a check against what manufacturers claim. COP is coefficient of performance, A COP of 3 means you get 3 kws of heat for 1 kw of electricity input. These units performed at COP of 7 with out door temperature of 55F and COP of 2 or less at outdoor temp of minus 5F. It is this low temperature COP that is critical for reducing for our winter peak problem. And COP of 2 is excellent for our climate. It offers a potential to reduce 400 MW on our system while lowering monthly energy bills, and without lowering thermostats.

  • Graham
    March 07, 2014 - 09:24

    Nfld Hydro tweets " turn down your thermostats a few degrees and 2000 houses can save 1MW. ONE FRIGGIN MEGAWATT!. With efficient minisplit electric heatmumps the average house reduces peak load by 2 kilowatts. 200,000 houses = 400 Megawatt reduction..... like scrap Holyrood oil burning( although we really need it for backup), and scrap MF which is only to give us 3ooMW. And all these conversions for the house cost only 1.5 billion, and no borrowed money, as they save so much on the power bills they are self financed over 7 years. That's the way the world is going..... but Nfld , as the tourism ads say "is another world" Anyone serious about this issue should examine the shameful CONSERVATION PLAN by our power companies, where this technology is ignored..... hurts revenue and profits I guess. SO folks, keep turning down the thermostats, unless you keep turning up the heat on these companies and our politicians, of all stripes. Not one of them promote robust plans to reduce peak demand without having to turn down the heat. The solution is out there. Complain in writing to Nfld power. The PUB has ordered that complaints to the power companies are to be passed along to the PUB. No complaint , likely no action.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 07, 2014 - 06:50

    Quote from NL Hydro's Jan. 8 presentation to the PUB ---------- "Total Island Interconnected System (capacity) 1946.1" (MW)--------- Since only 145 MW of generation has been out of service over these recent days, why is it that demand in the 1,500 - 1,600 MW range is an issue? .....That has been the island's normal average peak demand at least since 2002. WE ARE BEING FED A LINE --- and not a transmission line. On behalf of ratepayers, who will take them to task for what is largely misinformation?

    • Maurice E. Adams
      March 07, 2014 - 07:29

      Island peak demand from 2002 -- 2013 (MW):-----------1,592;1,595;1,598;1,595;1,517;1,540;1,520;1,601; 1,478;1,544;1,550;1.570........... Average -- 1,558.3 MW. (Original source:-- Nalcor).... So what's the problem? If you add some additional industrial demand to NLHydro's 1,300-1500 MW demand numbers, we are still in the range of our normal averages and perhaps only a little more that our previous 1,601 peak.

    • Morry
      March 07, 2014 - 08:03

      A dog and his bone.

    • Tony Rockel
      March 07, 2014 - 11:35

      And who is throwing bones to you, Morry? Is it Tom Marshall or Ed Martin? Who's pulling YOUR leash?

  • Me-old-stick-in-the-mud
    March 07, 2014 - 06:34

    My Quebec teaching colleagues here in Newfoundland, tease me in their terrible French/English accent by saying, we hear the “derriere” of your fellow Newfies is freez ing. What is the prob lem, Johnie? No elec tricity! We can always sell you some elec tricity from “our” Churchill Falls, Labrador.” You (petite) little Newfiefies must not catch cold.” The 1969 power contract, signed 40 years ago, between Hydro-Quebec and the Churchill Falls Labrador Corporation (CFLCo), becomes automatically renewable in 2016 with arrangements predetermined. Thanks to a Mr. Donald Gordon, CFLCo chairman, and CFLOo’s management of the day. The contract reads that most all the power must be sold to Hydro-Québec at an extremely low price. Basically, it amounts to a contract “piggybacked” onto a contract. During the renewal period the price is pre-set at $2 per megawatt hour (MWh). Even in the late 1960s, a price of $2 was extraordinarily low! In 2003, Hyro-Quebec received an average of apx. $85. per megawatt hour MWh! That was the rate 11 years ago! They buy the electricity from Newfoundland for $2. per (MWh), and will continue, after the 2016 contract renewal, to buy it at that rate for another 25 years! Actually, 50-75 years in the future! It is unlikely that Newfoundland will even cover its operating costs at Churchill Falls after the contract is renewed in 2016, making it necessary for us “Newfies” to subsidize Hydro Quebec far into the future! Yes, certainly, Joey Smallwood deserves blame, but, it appears it was CFLCo that sold the shop, and mortgaged its assets. Not to exonerate Joey, whatsoever, but, it appears, Joey was only told about the final contract by Chairman CFLCo Donald Gordon, after a “fait accompli’ - the contract had been signed. The renewal clause has received practically no public attention and has not been an issue in past litigation! Bring on BILL BARRY. He is the man to correct this injustice, I hope. Even Danny, could not rescue us, but, Danny was a townie lawyer, meek and mild. Bill Barry is a bayman, rough and tough. Can he put those Frenchmen’s’ derriere, finally, in their place? Quebec separation talk is surfacing again, as they head into an election on April 7. For me, they can’t separate quickly enough! However, they never, never will separate! They know, well, what side their bread is buttered on, and, a lot of that butter is made right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Me-old-stick-in-the-mud

    • Me
      March 07, 2014 - 08:11

      I was told years ago we can't even do something, accidentally of course, to the system to prevent power going to Quebec. We would then have to pay them what they should receive, or something like that. Bad contract. What would we have if it was a normal contract?