Crisis? What crisis?

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What a weekend it’s been — and while Premier Kathy Dunderdale may not feel this province has been facing a crisis, there are probably a fair number of residents who feel differently.

First, rolling electrical blackouts. Thursday and Friday, it was the hopscotch of feeder lines being taken down, with people left in the cold without power because a variety of Nalcor Energy assets were out of service for maintenance when they were needed most, as desperately cold temperatures swept across the island.

Saturday, it was the early morning transformer fire at the Sunnyside substation, a single incident at a single Nalcor facility that still managed to knock out power to 190,000 customers right across the island, 25,000 to 35,000 of whom were still without power on Sunday, and some of whom will be without power until as late as Tuesday.

“When you have infrastructure that’s 40 years old, you’re going to have challenges,” Dunderdale said Sunday. “Combine those challenges with difficult weather conditions that we’ve certainly had in the last few days, high demand, very high demand, higher than we’ve seen in the last five years, then events like this are going to occur,” she said. “There is a solution coming.”

That solution, apparently, is thousands of kilometres of electrical cable and a new hydroelectric power facility at Muskrat Falls. With all due respect to the efficacy of that solution, it is a long way off, and the message seems to be that until then, we’ll have to take our chances. It also begs a far more significant question: if the infrastructure is 40 years old (and the truth is that there is a significant portion that is even older than that, with some pieces dating back to the ’60s and still others so old that their manufacturers have gone out of business), why hasn’t there been a more significant effort to replace and maintain the province’s aging transmission and generation facilities?

Consider this: in August 2012, Newfoundland Hydro had this to say about crucial pieces of emergency generating equipment, gas plants at Hardwoods and Stephenville, in its own capital costs document: “Hydro’s gas turbine plants at Stephenville, Hardwoods and Holyrood are more than 30 years old. The generally accepted life expectancy for gas turbine plants is between 25 and 30 years. A complicating factor in Hydro’s case is that the manufacturer of the power turbines, one of the key components at the Stephenville and Hardwoods plants, is no longer in business, eliminating the availability of factory technical support and spare parts. Also, the manufacturer of the gas generators (jet engines) at the Stephenville and Hardwoods plants has declared them obsolete and the supply of spare parts, technical support and repair facilities continues to diminish.”

That’s correct: serious problems were clearly identified in 2012. The age and bottleneck of the Sunnyside substation is also hardly news to the utility. Both Stephenville and Hardwoods were out of service when power was needed on Thursday, as was one generator at Holyrood. Problems at Holyrood are continuing.

What is more than a little alarming than the idea that this is now to be expected is the suggestion that, at the drop of a hat, this may have become the new normal for this province. Think about this: last Tuesday, we had an electrical system we could apparently count on. By Sunday, its failure was the kind of “challenge” that the premier of the province says is likely to occur.

That is a very difficult pill to swallow. And people in the province might rightly want to know how it’s been allowed to happen.

Geographic location: Sunnyside, Stephenville

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  • Jimmy D
    January 09, 2014 - 22:09

    Crisis? What crisis?... While everyone is quick to blame the government for the lack of power, breakdowns and the rolling blackouts we may as well take it to the next level and blame them for all the snow and bad weather we have had for the past two weeks. I dont matter who is in office when things go bad sometimes the go very bad. As far as a crisis, the biggest crisis for most people these days is their cell phones going dead and they cant charge them right away. If we ever got hit with a real disaster people would not know how to deal with it.

  • Cal Williams
    January 06, 2014 - 19:32

    What kind of rebate is the government going to provide the Newfoundland taxpayers? Maybe no rebate for the poor management and inconsistent service without the option of power service due to its monopoly; but I suspect there won't be a problem asking for a rate increase year-after-after to pay for the current & future mismanagement - the taxpayer always pays. Governments become arrogant and forget that governments answer to the taxpayer - it's not there money to mismanage.

  • Observer
    January 06, 2014 - 16:21

    Your statement : Muskrat Falls...."with all due respect to the efficacy of that solution, it is a long way off." Well, good thing we're not waiting until 2041. So much for THAT brilliant idea.

  • Winston Adams
    January 06, 2014 - 15:51

    And did not Ed Martin say that a third transmission line from central to the Avalon would make not one bit of difference? When the two existing lines are loaded up, serious amounts of power are lost on "transmission losses" But if there is surplus hydro that is stranded, that is even worse. But transmission losses alone makes a lie of his statement. These people and their PR flunkies take advantage of the lack of technical detail knowledge on the part of the media, and so baffle the public with bullshit. Seems it works, for the most part. Rotating blackouts instead of a demand management system..... this is what Dunderdale wanted....why? High winter demand profile instead of planned efficiency measures to reduce winter peak demand..... this is what Dunderdale wanted, with all the misery to consumers at times like this. Why? Can some journalist ask Dunderdale why prudent measures (as other jurisdictions are doing) were not policy here? And do she still adhere to her opinions on that?

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 06, 2014 - 15:42

    Naclor says that the peak demand on Thursday was 1,550 MW and that Thursday's peak demand was 35% above our average for the last five years. ..... Here is a cut-and-paste from Nalcor's Exhibit 103 document they filed with the PUB in 2011 (from 2002 up to year 2010, and years 2011 and 2012 data received by email from Nalcor:--- "Actuals Island Peak Demand (MW) 1,592,1,595,1,598,1,595,1,517,1,540, 1,520,1,601, 1,478, 1,544 1,550" ..... average 1,557 MW......... So Thursday's peak of 1,550 was well below our year 2009 peak of 1,601 MW and even below the 11-year average peak of 1,557 MW. ......"Lies, damned lies and statistics".

  • Winston Adams
    January 06, 2014 - 15:12

    How has this been allowed to happen? I recall Andy Wells joking that the PUB hearings on Muskrat Falls went online that some 600 people were tuning in.... AND IT DIDN'T RATE WITH THE SOAP OPERAS. And last winter on the Nfld Power rate hike hearings, there was virtually no public interest in their PITIFUL Conservation Plan, which also does NOT include a demand management system which greatly alleviates the misery inflicted on the public at times like this. Even the media was silent on this issue. As to aging infrastructure... the big generators at Holyrood are necessary , even with Muskrat Falls, for voltage support. And is not Ed Martin misleading the public by saying the recent demand was higher than in the last five years? We have had higher peak demand in several years, and their supply is REQUIRED to be sufficient to exceed such demand, with a safety margin. They merely confuse the people to try to blame Mother Nature as the culprit instead of their incompetence.

  • Marshall Art
    January 06, 2014 - 13:58

    Premier Dunderdale has suggested that we can do a number of things to conserve energy during this non-crisis. For example, we can wash our dishes by hand. Perhaps somebody should have informed Her Highness that not all her subjects, ie., the great unwashed , have dishwashers.

  • david
    January 06, 2014 - 13:38

    But the renovations at Confederation Building do seem quite nice. So we got that going for us......

  • MIKE
    January 06, 2014 - 13:21

    The blame sits squarely on the senior people running the Province. Total failure to update and maintain an electrical system with back up systems.. Nonchalant attitude of senior decision makers is not acceptable.

  • MIKE
    January 06, 2014 - 13:20

    The blame sits squarely on the senior people running the Province. Total failure to update and maintain an electrical system with back up systems.. Nonchalant attitude of senior decision makers is not acceptable.

  • MIKE
    January 06, 2014 - 13:18

    The blame sits squarely on the senior people running the Province. Total failure to update and maintain an electrical system with back up systems.. Nonchalant attitude of senior decision makers is not acceptable.

  • david
    January 06, 2014 - 12:45

    To recap: Schools closed for 2 days, critical transportation links disrupted, local transportation hazardous, sick & elderly endangered, communities isolated, houses burnt down, and people dead. But there is no crisis because, as our fearless declared, and I quote: "people are shopping".

  • Ben
    January 06, 2014 - 12:15

    Not sure what difference it would make if the Premier said it was a crisis. Everything that can possibly be done is being done. Its so easy for people to say 'do this or do that'...but there are alot of factors at play. Maybe its time we take responsiblity ourselves and do more to help the situation, whether that is getting an emergency heat source or helping others when we can. PS...i have friends who live in Quebec and these rolling blackouts happen at times there. We should be all sticking together rather than laying blame on certain people.

    • Cathy S
      January 06, 2014 - 13:12

      The difference Ben is that as the Premier of this province we expect leadership not a downplaying of the challenges residents of this province are facing. She is worried about using the word "crisis" because no one heard from the Premier until public debate began on social media... There were upwards of 38 cm of snow down, windchills of -30 and black outs and rolling brown outs... her media blitz came a little to late for a leader of the people... she is a leader of her political party and not of the people.

  • Anna
    January 06, 2014 - 12:14

    No it wasn't a crisis but it was dangerous for people who were left in houses for up to 24 hours freezing to death. It's the Premier's tone of voice that she uses to talk down to us that gets people upset. Too bad her communications manager isn't fired. Speaking of which Ed Martin should definitely be shown the door if this is the service we will be getting for the next few years.

  • Corporate Psycho
    January 06, 2014 - 11:45

    Lets face it people. The Leadership is not there and won't be there. We all knew this before but now it has put lives in danger. It isn't funny anymore.

  • Aurelia
    January 06, 2014 - 11:19

    It is not a crisis. It is a major inconvenience.People are angry and rightly so. There should be enough power for all in these circumstances. An investigation must be done to clarify why there was no power for so long. However,it did not reach the level of a crisis. A crisis involves many people dying or at great risk of dying;and there are no police/fire services;or hospitals closed.

  • Maggy Carter
    January 06, 2014 - 11:14

    This is no longer a crisis - it is a catastrophe. The planned rolling blackouts were a crisis….intended to avert a catastrophe. But NALCOR's plan literally backfired with the Sunnyside meltdown. Any doubts about the extent of the catastrophe were eliminated last night when the Holyrood switchyard blew up and the generating plant - already down to 40% - went off line with a big bang. By the time she appeared in public, everyone knew Kathy Dunderdale was already dead in the water - so much so that even the sharks were reluctant to circle. Michaels and Ball - the latter of whom well understands that the next election is his to lose - do not want to be seen kicking a dead cat. And so they were circumspect in their criticism. Ball knows that in less than two years, Ed Martin and NALCOR will be his problem. By that time we'll be well into the fat with Muskrat and no doubt Martin/Dunderdale will have initiated the upgrade of existing capital assets that - in their negligent pre-occupation with Muskrat - they have so wantonly disregarded until now. Dunderdale and/or her successor (assuming she exits stage right in the next few months) will put the bill for that massive undertaking in government's back pocket. She will deliberately hold down rates in the knowledge that, soon after Ball takes the helm, he will have no other choice but to allow them to double almost overnight. With this parting shot, the Tories will take some comfort in their defeat that Ball's stay on the ninth floor will be short-lived. For that - and many other good reasons - Ball must show show quiet resolve by going on the record now with the promise of an independent public review of the province's electrical energy industry. Absent the inevitable public rebuke of those who brought us to this catastrophic state, Ball and the Liberals will be at risk of taking the blame for something over which they had very little knowledge and absolutely no control. Meanwhile - still dripping with the arrogance of yesterday's insistence that this is not a 'crisis' - Dunderdale took to the radio waves this morning to double down on her bet that the public is still bluffable. Rather than use the latest disaster at Holyrood as a way to extract foot-from-mouth, she has instead renewed her insistence that this not a crisis but rather a minor inconvenience. When the opportunity presents itself at the polls in 2015 - if not sooner - the public will beg to differ.

  • Carl
    January 06, 2014 - 10:50

    Just wish everyone would stop complaining and blaming and help each other out. Ask yourself this question, did I check to see if my neighbour needs help? No probaly not.....

    • david
      January 06, 2014 - 11:05

      Sorry. If it isn't Haiti or Vietnam or Guatemala, no one here is interested. ....Well, except for tourist season, and then it's all hands on deck!

  • david
    January 06, 2014 - 10:07

    Well, Rob Ford can feel better about himself today. He's no longer the most arrogant, incompetent, oblivious politician in Canada.

  • John Smith
    January 06, 2014 - 09:59

    Now for the parade of buffoons and clowns who want to turn this into a political pandering opportunity...makes me sick ... as if Dwight Ball or lorraine would have done any better...LOL Give me a break...

    • Ken Collis
      January 06, 2014 - 11:14

      Too late John Smith. That buffoon Dunderdale already did that by using this miserable situation to promote Muskrat Falls. Read her statement. The real issue to consider for the future is if the folks at Nalcor who put us in this situation should be fired or simply demoted.

  • Jar Jar Binks
    January 06, 2014 - 09:58

    Weesa all freezing and no power in four days Tell me Missa Blunderdale.: Whena yousa thinking we are in crisis?

  • Jimmy
    January 06, 2014 - 09:25

    Message: Crisis n.pl. A crucial turning point in an affair or series of events, whether favourable or unfavorable. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary. I know which I'm going through!

  • Jimmy
    January 06, 2014 - 09:23

    Message: Crisis n.pl. A crucial turning point in an affair or series of events, whether favourable or unfavorable. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary. I know which I'm going through!

  • Ed Power
    January 06, 2014 - 09:22

    A full Public Inquiry into this debacle is required, and the person/persons responsible for making the decisions that placed the province in this position held to account. Not that there is much hope of this occuring, with the cloak of secrecy that has descended over all things Muskrat and power related. In any case, whatever slim hopes Kathy Dunderdale had for re-election next year evaporated with her ill-conceived "Crisis, what crisis?" comments. The PC governments communication strategy must be managed by the Keystone Kops...

  • Ed Power
    January 06, 2014 - 09:21

    A full Public Inquiry into this debacle is required, and the person/persons responsible for making the decisions that placed the province in this position held to account. Not that there is much hope of this occuring, with the cloak of secrecy that has descended over all things Muskrat and power related. In any case, whatever slim hopes Kathy Dunderdale had for re-election next year evaporated with her ill-conceived "Crisis, what crisis?" comments. The PC governments communication strategy must be managed by the Keystone Kops...

  • Chew
    January 06, 2014 - 08:53

    Premier? What Premier?