Back in blackout

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Island power customers hit with short-lived power emergency

It was a combination of things that sent the island of Newfoundland into a power emergency Wednesday morning, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro vice-president Rob Henderson said at an afternoon news conference.

Rob Henderson (left) vice-president of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, and Gary Murray, vice-president of Newfoundland Power, address the media in St. John’s Wednesday after power was lost by up to 80,000 customers earlier in the day.

At the microphones, before the cameras, he apologized for the inconvenience to customers, thanked everybody for their patience and their co-operation and proceeded to explain the technical details of the utility’s failure to provide power as required.


At the root was the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station. A large generating unit at the power plant was taken offline last Friday for required maintenance — to fix a lubricating oil leak — and had not yet been brought online. Another large generator tripped and went offline, while a newly installed backup generator at the site struggled to get up and running as quickly as needed.


Cut to black.


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UPDATE: Unit 3 online and power coming back


Newfoundland in power emergency: NL Hydro


Newfoundland Power is the private company that distributes power to most end users on the island. Gary Murray, Newfoundland Power’s vice-president of engineering and operations, stood next to Henderson to lay out the response: 80,000 customers without power to start, 50,000 customers an hour later, 30,000 customers an hour after that, everyone in St. John’s back at 10:30 a.m. and all customers by 12:30 p.m.


From first outage to last, the emergency lasted about 5 1/2 hours — less, depending on where you live.


“This morning we expected this to be a short-term notification and it was,” Henderson said of the “power emergency” designation.


But in terms of notice to customers of a potential outage, there was none, noted Liberal MHA Dale Kirby, echoing negative commentary erupting on social media from customers beginning shortly after 7 a.m.


“Most people didn’t know a thing until the power went off,” he said, adding people were getting ready to go to work, on the way to medical appointments  or sending the kids off to school on the bus — any number of things interrupted along with their feed of power.


“There was a lot of inconvenience for everyone that had to contend with this this morning,” he said.


Schools in St. John’s and the surrounding area remained closed for the day, as a result of the power problems.


NDP MHA George Murphy similarly highlighted the sentiments being expressed.


“It’s just the reaction of people … it still shows people don’t have faith in the reliability of the electrical system,” he said, citing the so-called DarkNL power outages on the island last winter.


He said he was asking if sudden power outages would be part of life in Newfoundland and Labrador, until the completion of the Maritime Link and final interconnection with the mainland power system.


“Here we are scrambling again and it’s … just disturbing to see,” he said.


Henderson did not describe Hydro as scrambling. He did say the outage is being investigated.


Derrick Dalley, the minister dealing with Henderson, Hydro and parent company Nalcor Energy, said he was in contact with the power providers throughout the troubles.


“As a minister, I want to know why it went wrong. Was it something that could have been prevented? Could it have been foreseen?”

Dalley said an isolated power system is vulnerable to power outages, regardless of what you spend on it, but he would reserve any judgments on management around the latest outage until the issues were resolved and he had more information


Organizations: Newfoundland Power, Holyrood Thermal Generating Station, Maritime Link Nalcor Energy

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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