At the Newfoundland Power system control centre on Friday, manager of operations Sean LaCour was looking at real-time data on island power demand.
A floor below in the same building, system operators were rolling blackouts from one area to the next.
Despite pleas for energy conservation by the island’s power utilities, the demand numbers being faced by LaCour were creeping up again.
Newfoundland Power was told by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to begin cutting power to customers, to avoid crashing the system, just before 7 a.m. Planned, periodic blackouts — a sharing of available power — continued until about
“Even compared to (Thursday), which was a bitter cold day, you can see our load was tracking much higher,” LaCour said, pointing to numbers for 10 a.m. to noon.
“If we can get a message to our customers to continue to do their part, to conserve where they can, it would be helpful. And for our other customers who are experiencing these rotating outages: just bear with us, be patient, but it’s absolutely necessary to maintain the stability, if you will, of the system.”
The blackouts are expected to continue today.
A true end will only come when there is significantly less demand on the system, more power is being generated or both.
Working within limits
Newfoundland Power has some ability to generate power, but not much. It purchases 92 per cent of the power distributed to its customers from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.
“We can’t supply what we haven’t got,” said Newfoundland Power’s president and CEO, Earl Ludlow, simplifying the island’s power situation, when questioned at the utility’s offices on Duffy Place in St. John’s,
He was moving back and forth between Newfoundland Power buildings Friday, wrapped up in meetings and phone calls, tackling the power supply problem and confirming preparations for an overnight storm.
Asked about the potential cost of the power supply problem, he explained his mind was focused on more immediate considerations.
“I don’t know if it’s a financial thing as much as it is — I mean, I look at this with 250,000 customers out there right now. Last night it was -17C and it was about 80-kilometre winds. That’s where my mind goes last night,” he said.
Ludlow spoke outside of a customer service centre, where thousands of calls had been received in the previous 24 hours.
“The reliability of the system is paramount,” he said. “I’ve been at this now … I’m going to say 34 years and I’ve never seen this happen — the rotating power outages and shortage of supply.”
Newfoundland Power’s vice-president of customer operations and engineering, Gary Smith, was before the cameras representing the utility at a news conference later in the day at Hydro Place — Hydro’s headquarters.
Due to deficiencies in the power supply, Smith said Newfoundland Power cut power to between 35,000 and 40,000 customers — homes and businesses — during the period of highest demand Thursday night.
“Again, more customers were affected than that in that we actually rotate customers on and off in terms of the feeders,” he added.
Holyrood and beyond
Adding up the maximum capacity on the books for the generating assets of Newfoundland Power, Hydro and their largest customers, you will reach a total of about 1,900 megawatts of available power.
Demand has been peaking below 1,600 megawatts.
Even so, Hydro lead Rob Henderson told reporters the system is being maxed out.
The difference is made up in
several ways. Operators responsible for the power generators and island distribution system do not run any of the units at their absolute, exact maximum output, for example, so as not to damage the equipment.
Some hydro power plants are not able to store water to produce max power as needed.
The cold weather is more likely to freeze water than send a rush of fresh snow melt downstream, Henderson said.
Much more significantly, and as reported, one of the largest generators on the island — Unit 3 inside the Holyrood power plant — is operating at one-third of its capacity as a result of a failed fan attached to the generator.
And two gas turbine generators used as back-ups are down, in need of maintenance work.
One of those is at Hardwoods in Mount Pearl. That generator was taken out of service for a complete overhaul.
“Hardwoods was scheduled to be back on Dec. 20,” Henderson said.
“We ran into a problem with that unit ... a component failure in it. That happened on Dec. 21. As a result of that, that unit was not available.”
The final fix is expected late next week.
The other gas turbine unit is in Stephenville.
“It’s a generator with two gas turbine engines and one of those was own for a problem we experienced earlier in the year and there was parts on order and they will be coming in shortly to bring that up,” he said.
Henderson said having Holyrood at its full capability and the two gas turbines online would be enough to handle the power demand currently being faced.
The hope, he said, is still that demand will drop as temperatures rise and fixes will come quick and according to plan.