Newfoundland & Labrador’s Public Utility Regulator Demands Explanation for Rolling Blackouts

It is a rare pleasure to report on something happening in the field of public utility regulation in Canada that stands out as a high point of public service.

The attached initiative of the Newfoundland and Labrador Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (usually referred to as the Public Utilities Board or PUB), issued yesterday, orders officials of Newfoundland Hydro to appear tomorrow before the PUB to explain the ongoing blackouts affecting upwards of 100,000 customers on the island of Newfoundland and measures being taken to remedy the situation.

The chair of the PUB, Andy Wells, has been a thorn in the NL government’s side, particularly since the PUB refused to endorse the government’s pet Muskrat Falls project in the PUB’s March 2012 report on the project.

Given the NL government’s recent initiative to curtail the PUB’s ambit of responsibility, it remains to be seen how effective the PUB will be in illuminating the issues underlying the rolling blackouts. At very least, the PUB’s initiative is likely to greatly improve the public’s access to information on what is actually going on with the troubled power supply in Newfoundland.

The Ontario Energy Board ought to have done something similar to the PUB’s blackout inquiry with Toronto Hydro in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Thorncliffe Park blackout of March 2013, and the 2013 ice storm. However, the rotating door where senior positions are being exchanged between the Ontario Energy Board and the regulated utilities suggests that such an active approach to protecting the public interest is unlikely to come soon from official Ontario.

3 Comments

  1. Toronto Hydro is mimicking the Liberal Government’s tactics of being totally “unaccountable” to anyone for their actions or in the case of the latest ice storm “inactions”.
    If they were “accountable” then there would probably be “arrest warrants” issued for many leaders of both organizations!!!!

  2. A couple of recent comments from Premier Dunderdale in the media:

    1. “We need to become more mindful of energy conservation and we really need to focus on that over the next few days and the next number of weeks.”

    The rate of energy conservation in the Province is so low and has been so low for so long that it is essentially not measurable. For example, it was 1/30th the per capita conservation rate in Vermont in 2011.

    2. “[The Premier] said there was “no question” the circumstances that led to the power shortage underscore the need to proceed with Muskrat Falls, a $7.7-billion development under construction in Labrador that has sparked criticism from some who fear energy rate spikes and cost overruns. Many of the things that we’ve talked about over the last four years in terms of reliable, sustainable, predictable, affordable electricity … we’re having to deal with them in the last couple of days,”

    There is no measure of reliability anywhere that suggests replacing a thermal plant located proximal to the primary load centre with a hydroelectric facility at the end of a 1000+ km transmission line, travelling under a water body and across a mountain range will IMPROVE reliability.

  3. Pingback: Town Hall on Toronto Hydro's 2013 ice storm response | Tom Adams Energy - ideas for a smarter grid

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