Power problems were unacceptable

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If I did my job as poorly as Newfoundland Power (NP) does, I would expect to be fired.

But, then again, I don’t have the exclusive monopoly rights that it has, so there is significantly more motivation for me not to find myself in such a pickle.

Forgive me for sounding cranky but after having no electricity at my home in the centre of St. John’s for over 44 hours (a condition shared by several other neighbours and the entire Newfoundland and Labrador Housing complex behind me), while others on the street had theirs 24 hours ago and all the commercial enterprises around us are open, you may feel inclined to forgive me.

According to NP, we are unfortunately one of those “isolated pockets” that are not given the priority that larger outages attract.

Now, I wouldn’t mind if this only happened every now and then, but every time we get a storm outage, we have to go through this.

It seems that if someone breaks wind on Cowan Avenue “the system” breaks down and we have to forgo basic creature comforts for hours or days at a time.

Last evening after midnight, my neighbour started his car intermittently and turned on the heat in order to stay warm.

The lady who was alone up the street put on her winter parka and slept under as many blankets as she could find, while two doors up the lights were blazing. I was forced to forgo the use of an electrically driven medical device that I need while sleeping.

Meanwhile, the Christmas lights are burning brightly in some houses across and further up the street and you can almost smell the burgers cooking at the McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants just down the road.

Recently, during Igor, our sump pump didn’t work due to no electricity and we had a foot of water come into our fully finished basement that cost in excess of $10,000 to repair.

I am sure that my situation is not unique and that there are far greater instances of inconvenience and trauma to be told.

But why is this allowed to happen in this day and age?

Has the magnitude of fall and winter storms increased from 20-30 years ago when it seems like we didn't have near so many outages?

Has engineering technology stepped backward?

Or should Fortis, who owns NP and runs a similar enterprise in Central America, be called to task for not doing its job?  

Aren’t there performance clauses in their monopoly contract or are they operating here like they might in some banana republic?

How come people are putting up with this and not marching in the streets?

Fortis and NP should be ashamed of themselves.

However, when was the last time you heard the CEO of Fortis or a senior official of either company make a public apology for their poor service standard? Having not been able to get in touch with NP by telephone, I actually went to two of their locations here in St. John’s to find out what was going on. While it was obvious that there were personnel inside, all the doors were locked shut.

This, of course, added insult to injury. These recent experiences with NP and Nalcor (the latter couldn’t get the electricity to NP to distribute) doesn’t give me much confidence that when Muskrat Falls is up and running they will effectively transmit its power across the wilds of Labrador, not to mention the Great Northern Peninsula, when evidently they cannot deliver it from either Bay D’Espoir or Holyrood.

Most modern companies try to create an environment whereby it can attract and maintain a high-calibre workforce.

Of course, the reputation of the company is a big part of achieving this intention.

Given NP’s dismal record for the last several years, I could understand how some employees might be less than proud to work there. And now Newfoundland Power wants a rate increase of seven per cent or more! The mind boggles!

Obviously they are listening more to their shareholders than to their customers. Basic child psychology suggests we should not reinforce bad behaviour. I hope the PUB, when reviewing NP’s rate increase application, agrees.

Tom Hawco writes from St. John’s.

Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Burger King

Geographic location: Cowan Avenue, Central America, Labrador Holyrood

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Recent comments

  • Winston Adams
    January 17, 2013 - 08:58

    John Smith, your insight into the power outage is likey correct , although I didn't see this explanation in the media. You say they started popping fuses and burning up transformers with all the extra load . So what do you think of all those night set back thermostats they promote with Take Charge? When the power goes off, you cannot reset them to lighten the load . And who will think to turn off the hot water breaker? So requests to lighten the load, which can be done with manual thermostats, are useless. And there is no demand control so the power companies can do this. So everything is at full load for many hours, and causing problems for Nfld Power as you say. Of cource , efficient heating and hot water cuts the loads by half, and if widely adopted, would be of great assistance to normalize after outages like that. But that is not in the plan, and was never considered as an alternative to Muskrat Falls. So problems like that should be expected, and maybe get worse as our winter heating load is so high. What you describe happened is essentially rationing electricity ( by blowing fuses on the power lines) until all the houses get back to normal temperature. Not planned rationing, essential rationing form overloading trying to get back to normal. Rationing was something Dunderdale didn't want. But we all got it , in an unexpected way. Of course demand control , and efficiency would have been a blessing in a situation like that. But look at it this way-- maybe they set a new maximum peak load, and they need to demonstrate how our load is growing , as a Muskrat Falls rationale, right?

  • RJ
    January 17, 2013 - 00:30

    Having power lost for 41 hrs wasn't all bad.My Wife decided to snuggle & my son cleaned his room...er no facebook,twitter,video games...I am looking fondly for the next big storm! ;)

  • Stephen
    January 16, 2013 - 22:21

    Stop your whining bys and go buy a generator. Remember that electricity is a luxury that people lived without for thousands of years. People at NL Hydro and NL power can only do so much and yeah the majority is more important then the minority. My power was gone for about 30 or so hours and I didn't whine or complain. Started up the generator and put the fire in, in the wood stove. Quit your bitchin and prepare yourself for weather related issues. Self sufficiency is not practiced nearly enough in this province..

  • John Smith
    January 16, 2013 - 17:17

    Mr. Hawco, you seem ignorant to the root cause of the power outage this past weekend, as it was caused by Nalcor subsidery NL Hydro, and had little to do with NL Power. After having to sit idle for many, many hours, waiting for hydro to get it's act together, NL Power was finally given the go ahead to start bringing the substations back online, when they tried to do this the fuses, and the transformers started to blow, as thousands or hot water boilers, electric heaters, and furnaces all would cut in at the same time. NL Power staff did an exceptional job in my opinion, under very, very difficult circumstances, and deserve our gratitude, not the undeserved criticism from people like you.

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    January 16, 2013 - 14:48

    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!

    January 16, 2013 - 11:24

    The largest blackout in North America occurred in August 2003. More than 50 million customers in Ontario and eastern U.S. states were without power for a couple of days. Washington and Ottawa responded by establishing the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force which conducted an extensive investigation and in 2004 filed its findings on the causes, assigned responsibility, and recommended reforms. In relative terms, last week's outage in eastern Newfoundland was comparable in magnitude to 2003 episode. It impacted a large part of the province's population, it occurred in winter, and it lasted up to four days. It involved a massive failure at NL Hydro's switch-yard in Holyrood as well as failures at Cat Arm and the Upper Salmon generating stations. Some members of the public were highly critical of Nalcor, NL Hydro (and perhaps unfairly) of NL Power. But Hydro mounted a public relations offensive designed to assuage public outrage. Some went so far as to argue that outages of this type in harsh winter storms are to be expected. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. This was not a case of transmission towers collapsing in an ice storm. This was a wholly preventable occurrence - one which likely involved a failure to conduct proper maintenance, a failure to follow best industry practice, and a failure to anticipate the need for technical staff at critical locations in the midst of a massive storm that came with plenty of notice. Hydro stated publicly that it did not know what went wrong (which was not true) and announced that it was conducting its own investigation (without any indication as to its scope or whether the results would be made public). Hydro acknowledged that the outage lasted as long as it did because its staff were unable to make it through heavy snow to Holyrood. Its most peculiar comment was that 'safety came first'. Well of course if that was true Hydro would have minimized any risk to its staff by having them where they would need to be in the event of a failure. But the statement also overlooks the enormous risks that protracted outages pose to the public at large particularly in the dead of winter when emergency services are severely strained and constrained. In short, this unprecedented failure demands an independent investigation. A properly constituted public utilities agency would insist on knowing what happened, why, and how to prevent it from happening again. That, of course, is hardly likely in the ultra-secretive, ultra-sensitive environment fostered by the current government - especially on any matter relating to Nalcor or NL Hydro. Moreover, Hydro is well aware that any public finding of negligence on its behalf could well precipitate a flood of claims from ratepayers who suffered financial loss. Hydro could be forced to make good on such claims if it could be shown that the outage was not an act of God, but resulted rather from a failure by Hydro to take reasonable precautions to prevent the outage or, in the event of an outage, to minimize its duration. I

    • david
      January 16, 2013 - 21:16

      I just glance at this post, and other posts like it, and I say to myself: this person could not possibly have written something worth reading. Get to a point...faster.

  • Red
    January 16, 2013 - 09:55

    Tom it is very unfortunate that this happens to you frequently, and the power lines in Newfoundland of all places should be buried. If it were me suffering through this constantly though I would purchase a generator or secondary source of backup power, especially for the sump pump. Since we can't depend on government to fix things, sometimes we have to look after ourselves.

  • david
    January 16, 2013 - 08:11

    Newfoundland.....government..,,monopoly. Nuff said.

  • Winston Adams
    January 16, 2013 - 07:49

    Tom, surveys show that Nfld Power customers are very pleased with their service, but surveys also show 95 percent are concerned and would like lower power bill. After a 6 percent power hike in July they now seek another 7.9 percent and seeks 18 percent profit hike. I dropped by the PUB hearing yesterday. Seemed to be no public presence, and one could get the impression neither the public nor media care. Business as usual: try for another 6 percent hike, so ask for 7.9 , grant 5.9 and make it seem like a bargin and consumers will be releived it wasn,t worse. And remember, most Nflders want Muskrat falls to proceed, even knowing it will cause power rates to go up a lot. Seems most will get their wish.Ray Guy sort of poses the question of whether Nfders are stupid. Wouldn't it make you wonder? And our Consumer Advocate voted for the high cost Muskrat Falls power also. Expect lots of these over the next 5 years.