Common sense could have prevented blackouts

Randy Simms
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The rolling blackouts of January have now entered the history books.
Those long, dark days and nights which saw well over 100,000 homes without electricity — sometimes for days — are behind us, and we should expect to never have to deal with that again.

It can’t be guaranteed, of course, but our confidence in the electrical system should be stronger in the days ahead.

Nalcor released its review of the January outages this week. No specific cause was given, but rather a series of unrelated issues cropped up as a result of inclement weather and it was these unrelated matters that led to the loss of power.

Nalcor chairman Ed Martin did not dwell on the past when he talked to the media. He wanted to look to the future, and discussed the recommendations that will be adopted as a result of the review.

There are four things the company will address to ensure a more reliable power supply. They all make sense.

First, Nalcor will hire someone to look after the repairs and equipment upgrades needed in places like Stephenville. I guess that means a piece of equipment slated for refurbishment in September will not still be waiting for parts to arrive come December. Wasn’t there someone in charge of that work all along?

Second, they will fast-track the replacement of some equipment, a lot of which is now over 40 years old. The fact that such equipment could be kept online long after its best-before date raises questions, but when you consider how we address the ferry replacement program, you can see how it can happen. Everyone in government — all levels of government — is so conscious of saving dollars these days that we run the risk of having something break down that should have been repaired or replaced long ago.

Third, they are going to keep more spare parts on hand so that when something does break down, they won’t necessarily have to order in. This should make for faster repairs and lessen downtime. Finding parts for some of the four-decade-old technology might be a challenge, but the folks at Nalcor seem up to the task.

Fourth, they are going to ask the Public Utilities Board for more power. Martin says they want to generate an additional 100 megawatts on the Avalon to avoid future shortages. I guess that means more oil-fired electricity — sad to think, when you consider all the power to come our way from Muskrat Falls, but that’s a story for another day.

Martin tried to put the most positive spin he could on January’s blackouts.

“We are doing all the right things,” he says. “The independent experts have verified that. We have had our reviews. Some things we can do better.”

He’s got that right, for sure.

He concluded his news conference as he started it, by repeating his key message: “We are doing all the right things and everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The question still needing an answer is an old one: how did it get to this in the first place? What set of values, principles and policies — corporate or otherwise — led to this failure and the set of recommendations which flowed from this report?

I may be off the mark, but when you review those recommendations, don’t you think they are such common sense that they should have been part of the operational methodology of the place anyway? Having someone oversee upgrades and repairs, keeping spare parts on hand, replacing outdated technology — that’s what comes out of this report.

When Martin said there are things they can do better, he wasn’t lying.  

Nalcor has become a corporate behemoth since its inception.

Let’s hope one of reasons for the catastrophic power failure in January had nothing to do with taking your eye off the ball.

Randy Simms is a

political commentator and broadcaster.

He can be reached at:

Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Organizations: Public Utilities Board

Geographic location: Stephenville, Muskrat Falls

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Recent comments

  • flourlaake
    March 31, 2014 - 03:05

    Ed Martin and company should have resigned the next day. Total incompetency as were the PC government that put them there. Any private company would have them gone long ago. Now they are turning us back into debt because of Muskrat. And we allowed this, how stupid are we as Newfoundlanders?

  • Jim
    March 30, 2014 - 11:23

    So this means Mr. Martin and senior executives of Hydro will forego their bonuses this year and direct the money to refurbishing Holyrood. Bonuses are for performance!

  • Tony Rockel
    March 29, 2014 - 16:22

    How could anyone expect common sense to play ANY role in Nalcor's planning or any of their daily routines. They've already proven themselves to be insanely irresponsible and totally out of touch in their planning and promotion of the Muskrat Falls fiasco-- a mega project that no one needs.

  • M. Atkinson
    March 29, 2014 - 15:10

    Well said Mr. Simms.

  • carogers
    March 29, 2014 - 11:30

    common sense left long ago tried calling him no answer

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 29, 2014 - 10:29

    Nalcor did not take its eye off the ball...... it was never on the ball (the right one, that is) in the first place --- and still not.

  • Ken Collis
    March 29, 2014 - 08:09

    Mr. Martin is a politician trying to run a company. Inclement weather is the reason we need power in the first place, not an excuse for seeing generators fail. Everyone knows that during storms there will be power lines and transformers that will fail. They are out in the wind, rain, ice, and snow. That is far different than the generation side of things that failed because they weren't maintained properly, and no plan was implemented years ago to replace older equipment. Keeping equipment properly maintained is the mainstay of every single business in the world. I see the problem as a failure by TOP management to run the operation. A beer distributer just resigned from Nalcor's board. Why was he there in the first place? Mr. Martin's pink slip should have been issued as soon as there was enough power to print it. Lets demand from government that professionals be hired to run Nalcor.