Update: NL Hydro and Newfoundland Power at odds on PUB review

Utilities make different requests of regulator at early hearing

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on February 5, 2014
(From left) Dwanda Newman, commissioner; Jim Oxford, commissioner; chairman and CEO Andy Wells; and Darlene Whalen, vice-chair of the Public Utilities Board prepare their notes after they arrived to begin proceedings into the Investigation and Hearing into Supply Issues and Power Outages. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

The Public Utilities Board (PUB) held a meeting in St. John’s this morning to move forward its response to system issues, rolling blackouts and power outages experienced on the island of Newfoundland in December and early January.

The event was to provide opportunity for presentations and statements to be made by anyone interested in the review, to help the PUB decide exactly what it will be looking at as it continues forward.

As the meeting got underway in a packed hearing room at the Prince Charles Building on Torbay Road, it quickly became clear there is an ongoing debate over whether or not the PUB should only look at the immediate future or the immediate future and long-term reliability of the power system.

Does the PUB focus on only what caused the recent outages and the preparedness of the power utilities to meet demand for the next few years, until Muskrat Falls power begins to feeding into the island, or does the PUB look at system reliability once Muskrat Falls power is online?

Newfoundland Power wants to talk about the world with Muskrat Falls.

“From Newfoundland Power’s perspective, this inquiry really is an opportunity for all of us to dig into exactly what caused the events of January,” said Karen McCarthy, Newfoundland Power’s manager of corporate affairs and communications. “And as we go through that we also want to look to the future and see what kind of planning and engineering work needs to be done to ensure reliable, low-cost power for our customers.”

McCarthy spoke to reporters immediately following the PUB meeting, but Newfoundland Power representatives made similar presentations to the board in-session.

“We feel it really comes down to practicality. We, at Newfoundland Power, can’t sit back and plan out the systems and look at reliability of the system without really knowing what to expect well into the future,” she said.

There is the question of investing money into pieces of the island’s power system that may not be used into the future. For example, parts of the Holyrood power plant will be decommissioned once Muskrat Falls power begins to feed into the island grid.

Opposite Newfoundland Power’s view, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro wants to focus on the immediate issues.

“What we would like to do is look at what caused the issues that we had during the outages that we experienced at the beginning of January, fully understand those and explain those to the public and learn from it, see how we can improve,” said Rob Henderson, vice-president of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

Henderson said the system will be changing significantly once Muskrat Falls power is in play, but said moving the review into the time frame including Muskrat Falls power would add a level of complexity to the process.

He suggested questions being raised around Muskrat Falls power, Holyrood, power backups and overall system reliability can be looked at later.

“I think, in time, all of those things will become clear to people so they will understand it,” he said.

The consumer advocate, intervenor Danny Dumaresque and the day’s presenters almost universally called for the PUB to look into the future as part of its current review.

Presenters included: Keith Morgan on behalf of Nu-Quest Distribution; Curtis Mercer and Jack Parsons for K&P Contracting and Heat Seal Limited; Des Sullivan; Cabot Martin; Peter Miles and Bernard Coffey on behalf of the Liberals; and David Vardy and Ron Penney.

The Telegram will have a detailed report from the day in tomorrow’s print and digital editions of thetelegram.com, to be made available online. It will also continue full coverage of the progress of the PUB review.

Meanwhile, the provincial government is continuing to determine what its promised review of the province’s power system will include. Further information on that review, one that will include a look at the PUB itself, is expected by Feb. 20.



(Earlier story by Telegram staff.)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Public Utilities Board is holding a pre-hearing conference this morning to open a hearing into supply issues and power outages on the island in December and early January.

The board has also been gathering information from both Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Newfoundland Power Inc. The board says while its investigation is initially focused on whether load requirements on the island interconnected system can be met in the near term, it may also inquire into other issues such as asset readiness, maintenance practices, load forecasting, planning criteria and assump tions, equipment performance and reliability, emergency preparedness, system response, and restoration efforts.