UPDATE: Consultant says ‘unacceptably high risk of outages’ in NL

Liberty Consulting Group tells PUB Hydro needs to improve planning, maintenance, scheduling

Published on April 24, 2014

Looking at the blackouts and unplanned power outages in Newfoundland in January, a consultant hired by the utilities regulator has found Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro needs to pay more attention to system maintenance, scheduling and completing maintenance work before the winter hits.

“The number and nature of the failures that occurred within this compressed time frame [in January] is very unusual, and raises questions about Hydro’s operation and maintenance of equipment,” reads a report from Liberty Consulting Group, submitted to the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) and released today.

“Liberty found that Hydro did not complete recommended maintenance activities on the equipment that failed, and that protective relay design issues and insufficient operator knowledge of the protective relay schemes existed. These circumstances contributed to the outages caused by the equipment failures.”

The consultant has recommended more power generators or generation capability be at the ready on the island of Newfoundland. Without it, it states, there is a standing and “unacceptably high risk” of further outages like the ones experienced this winter, through the 2015-2017 time period.

The PUB hired Liberty to provide an early, independent review of the readiness of the power system heading into the coming winter, given the need for rolling blackouts and unplanned outages on the island in Jan 2-8, 2014 and a later call in March for energy conservation.

The consultant will assist the PUB as the power review continues, looking to beyond the point where the island system is linked to the mainland and is fed power from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development on the Churchill River in Labrador.

The consultants’ report was released shortly before 2 p.m. The Telegram is still reviewing the approximately 95-page document, but an executive summary states Liberty Consulting Group found the January outages “resulted from a shortage of generating capacity to meet customer demand.”

Hydro and Newfoundland Power have recently submitted proposals to the PUB for upgrades to the system, including the addition by Hydro of a 100-megawatt power generator, to help firm up available power and provide assurance of rapid response should further issues arise.

Liberty has also recommended Hydro in particular plan its resources to meet the demand of more severe weather conditions than it has to this point, and review its criteria for system planning and how it determines when new generation is needed.

“This review will require the engagement of all stakeholders,” the consultant notes.

After an early review of the report, Danny Dumaresque, an intervener in the PUB power review, said the report is a vindication of criticisms launch at Hydro in particular in recent years around the subject of system maintenance and readiness.

“Hydro’s knuckles have been severely rapped publicly,” he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is in the midst of reviewing the consultant's report, but Hydro president Ed Martin has issued a preliminary response.

“We are committed to ensuring our provincial electricity system can reliability meet the needs of our customers now, in the short term, and after the commissioning of Muskrat Falls,” Martin said, within a statement issued by Hydro. 

“We are putting the necessary steps in place to prevent customer disruptions of this magnitude in the future.”

Martin noted Hydro is expecting to spend roughly $160 million in upgrades to the system this year. The additional generator cost has yet to be stated publicly and will be atop the other expected upgrades.


Earlier story:

The Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) has released a consultants’ report meant to assist the ongoing review of the province’s main power system.

The report was provided by email to media and review participants this afternoon and a link will be provided here as it becomes available online.

The PUB hired Liberty Consulting Group out of Pennsylvania to, in part, provide technical expertise. Liberty has previously conducted review work for energy regulators throughout North America, including in Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia, the consultant was brought in by the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board in fall 2004, after a power outage affecting about 100,000 ratepayers in that province, lasting several days for some.

The report to the PUB is expected to be considered as the regulator develops its own interim report on the power system — addressing any immediate concerns heading into next winter — to be released May 15, according to the standing schedule.

The PUB launched its ongoing review of the entire system following rolling blackouts and outages in Newfoundland Jan. 2-8, 2014.

After considering immediate issues, the PUB will go on to any long-term requirements for firming up reliability of the power system as the province’s hydroelectric development at Muskrat Falls is completed, along with a link of the Labrador and island systems, feeding power from Labrador’s Churchill River to Newfoundland.

More on the Liberty Consulting report to come.