Rolling blackouts continue in Newfoundland

Pressure on as Newfoundland Power, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro try to manage supply shortage

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on January 3, 2014

Even with a request for people in on the island of Newfoundland to conserve power during peak periods, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is still faced with more demand than power in the system as of 9:30 a.m. Friday morning.

With a key generator at the Holyrood power plant unable to run at full speed, paired with two gas turbines out for maintenance, Hydro has been unable to feed Newfoundland Power the energy it needs to keep the lights on.

More importantly, there is not enough power to keep the heat on during an early winter cold snap.

Rolling blackouts — sharing power — continued this morning, after a night of the same Thursday. The blackouts were to last just half an hour to an hour, but many people have reported longer outages.


Rolling blackouts as power use surpasses supply

“There were some people off last night a little bit longer than an hour. In fact in some cases they were off a couple of hours and there’s a few more off longer than that,” acknowledged Karen McCarthy, a communications lead at Newfoundland Power.

There were reports of some system issues unrelated to the rolling blackouts, though McCarthy could not speak offhand to specifics and offered to provide more information later today.

In other cases, she said, the length of time off the system can be related to the size of the power demand in the area.

“Taking them off is really about tripping the feeder. It’s as simple as a switch if you would. But when the houses start to get cold, if we’ve got a large feeder trip that might have as many as say three or four thousand people on it, then we might have to bring them on more slowly onto the system so that we don’t cause it to break down,” she said.

This is what the utilities often refer to as balancing the power.


Record high demand

Demand for power remains a problem for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro today.

Dawn Dalley, vice-president of corporate relations with Nalcor, says the island power system faced record high demand for power last night and continued high demand this morning. Nalcor Energy is Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro’s parent company.

This morning, demand peaked between 1,450 megawatts and 1,460 megawatts, even with a request for energy conservation.

“And that’s high for a morning peak. Lower than last night, but still high,” Dalley said.

Thursday night was a historical high for power demand for the day, she said, running 1,550 megawatts to 1,560 megawatts.

As for the question of whether or not this could have been predicted, Dalley said again the average peak demand over the last five years was about 1,150 megawatts, give or take, making recent demand a clear step above.

“It is tough for people and we’re not immune to that. We understand it intimately that this is frustrating for people,” Dalley said.

“We appreciate the frustration that everyone has. Electricity has become a commodity that is … most people think in the country we live in and the province we live in should be pretty standard. We expect it to be on all the time. So (this) is an anomaly and it’s a series of events,” she said.

While Christmas lights were targeting in requests for people to lower their energy usage, Christmas lights are not the biggest piece of demand on the system, especially with new energy efficient LED light options becoming more pervasive. That said, the lights are considered an indicator of whether or not individuals are receiving the message asking for energy conservation, Dalley said.

Hydro is currently looking at why the demand has peaked the way it has, to see if there was anything other than the cold temperatures increasing the demand.

More to come.