Power failure

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It's surprising how often, when the power's failed, that you find yourself walking into a room and flicking on a light switch, expecting something to happen.

And, when nothing happens, how you spend a few moments in something close to disbelief about the situation you've found yourself in.

Friday, at the height of the blizzard, people all over the eastern part of the province (and other parts besides) were left doing exactly that, after the Holyrood generating station went offline, leaving the Northeast Avalon with much less energy than the region normally consumes.

Perhaps worth thinking about as a result of that period without electricity is what will happen in the absence of Holyrood, when all of our electricity will be supplied by long- distance supply line - in part by incredibly long-distance lines bringing Muskrat Falls power from Labrador.

The failure at Holyrood came during a serious winter storm, one with winds gusting at over 100 kilometres an hour and with a heavy snowfall that clearly made it impossible for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to effectively mobilize crews to deal with the factors that led to the shutdown.

In the future absence of Holyrood - a major polluter though it may be - it's not clear where emergency supplies of power would come from in this region.

After all, one of the issues raised by Manitoba Hydro International in its analysis of the transmission system from Muskrat Falls was concern about what Nalcor and Newfoundland Hydro had in mind for an emergency plan.

And there is certainly room to spend time considering just that.

One thing that people learned again on Friday is that we have come to depend - and perhaps depend too much - on stable, consistent electrical service and supply. We need it for heat and light and to power our myriad of appliances, devices, computers, phones and conveniences. We need it so much that we can hardly conceive of how to handle being without it.

Perhaps the clearest wakeup call we should take from Friday's outage - an outage that apparently involved the partial failure of the largest generating station on the Avalon - is that as long as we are all going to depend so much on our supply of electricity, we also have to pay as much attention to the future of that supply and the issues that affect it.

A failure the size of Friday's situation at Holyrood is certainly a concern for any generating utility, and bears a full examination to consider what happened, what can be learned from the incident and what it might say about the future stability of our electrical grid.

Utilities measure their failure rates in mere hours - Friday's loss of power marks a reliability issue that can't simply be brushed off as solely a weather event.

We look forward to that examination.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Manitoba Hydro International

Geographic location: Holyrood, Northeast Avalon, Labrador

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Recent comments

  • laurentien
    April 04, 2013 - 11:26

    The actual thermal power station is very old and is bound to more breakdowns of that sort. Inevitably, this power station will be decommissioned since it will eventually involve large and even increasing maintenance costs. The Hydro-Quebec experience since the 60s concludes that power produced by very distant hydro has become very reliable and only a few power outage were observed and one was related to a huge solar flare. So, the question is now that wind mills should be located in many places to insure a good power backup since NL seems to have none.

  • EDfromRED
    January 13, 2013 - 11:52

    Instead of putting a fence around the harbor, how about Holyrood instead? Maybe have more than a skeleton crew station there too? Judging by the chaos caused by one problem there, if nefarious near-do-wells wanted to cripple us they would surely target power stations instead of cargo ships.

  • Blake
    January 13, 2013 - 11:36

    You may expect more of these power failures in the future as Nalcor will be installing a cheaper long distance transmission line from Muskrat Falls to save on costs. As well with the growing support in Labrador of separation one cannot ignore possible sabotage.

  • Winston Adams
    January 12, 2013 - 17:57

    MHI noted tha a failure of MF power could involve a loss of that supply for 30 days or more. Consider how minor this outage was in comparison to such a failure. Holyrood is only 30 miles from St john's, and MF a thousand miles. MF involves many many challenges to overcome, like special tower structures that can take extremely high icing loads and special design to prevent a cascade of structure losses. That is beside the submarine cable in iceberg infested waters. Every challenge is a risk to reliability. Having experience with the Hydro system, I know that the existing 69kv system on the Northern Peninsular had a high rate of outages that were longer lasting than other areas- due to salt contamination as that area is exposed to high winds from the ocean from both sides. This salt causes flashovers. Other contaminants such as normal dirt gets washed off with rain. Frozen rain , that is sleet and ice built up is non conductive and seldon contributes to flashovers. However salt is conductive, and very much a problem in that area. For normal contamination, extra insulators are used according to the voltage. Higher votage required more insulators. But that doesn't do much good against salt. Our main lines on the island are 230 kv, but track inland. Apart from the Avalon Ismus, they are away from salt spray, so have a very good record as to trips from this type of problem. I had read from the MHI report last year that Nalcor stated the DC line from Labrador would have a similar expectation of outages from contaminants as our existing 230 kv lines. This seemed odd, as the primary risk in the Northern Peninsula region is salt spray, and most of our existing 230 kv lines are little exposed to salt spray.To make this statement valid , they stated that salt was not a contaminant! I put a question to the PUB on this, but it never got answered, and I still don't understand the rationale. As system reliability is now an issue , perhaps some journalist could inquire and get clarification on this. I didn't work on transmission design, but worked with relaying and protection for this area in the 1970s, and I remember the problems with salt spray. Of the millions spent on studies and design, surely someone can clarify this. It's a reliability issue. Perhaps it's a problem they solved?

  • crista
    January 12, 2013 - 14:40

    to the ones that make these decisions and bill 29 it is getting to be like when the power goes out no body knows what is going on???? BUT you still have to pay for your every day living if ????you got $$$$,then you got to think about the ones that do not have $$$$ and that can not be tented on hand and foot for who you are???? and not being sarcastic.Why and what is the problem taxpayers are not allowed to know about what is being kept secret about peoples every day problems,why all the doubt????or is it they have to depend on the media or hearsay and gossip look at what is going on and who has to pay for these mishaps if you want to call them mishaps????if you let some one take and abuse your RIGHTS what is going to happen and what comes out of that????So when you look at it you are being dictated to, by who and why are you letting this go on when they are suppose to be working for society and making the world a better place to live and that is for when you go to turn a switch and expect some thing to happen or when some one is sick and they are not allowed to get the right treatment because they say they know what they are talking about or we are doing all we can do or what is it you are expecting to be done what do you call that when that is said to you ???? is that like when you are left stranded in a bad storm???? that they were prepared for and yes machines break, that is not much good when it happens now look at muskrat falls and churchill falls and think of MOTHER NATURE and look at responsiables and things do not go the way some one or some thing perdicts so. Where we are now in prophecy?and if you do not know that why is that you agree and do not agree on the justice and politics of society and the world and where is law and order???? because it seems the taxpayer does not have a say or have rights so WHO IS THE FAULT AND WHO IS TO BLAME????

  • Cyril Rogers
    January 12, 2013 - 14:12

    There is no doubt that some form of power failure from long distance transmission lines is inevitable and no amount of engineering will eliminate that reality. Holyrood, we all agree, is a polluter and needs to be upgraded further or replaced. However, the other reality is that some form of backup thermal generation is going to be absolutely necessary in future....hence the redundancy of Muskrat Falls as a supplier of electricity for the island. This is not to suggest an upsurge in power needs....it is merely that we need some type of thermal generation not matter what. Thus, security of supply is absolutely necessary but not at the cost of fiscal disaster like Muskrat Falls.

  • david
    January 12, 2013 - 13:18

    I almost got hit by a bus!! So I better go to that casino and play roulette right away, or lord knows I might die with all that money in a stupid ol' bank account!

  • RJ
    January 12, 2013 - 11:58

    Buffalo NY gets a couple of major storms many yrs with in excess of 100cm..and here 50cm ppl are running around like it is the end of the world and gov close up office @ 3pm,long before any weather hits..so much for our reputation as a hardy bunch ..lol

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    January 12, 2013 - 09:24

    I know that one media report from NL Power during the storm part of the failure was attributed to the fact that there was only 1 person stationed at the Holyrood generating station and that they had trouble getting additional personnel in to assist during the height of the storm. I would call that a case of gross negligence, not to have additional staff in place especially when you consider that the severity of the storm was well known long before it happened. It is scary to think that only 1 person has almost complete control of the island's power grid. That would almost even make Danny Williams green with envy!