If Toronto Hydro officials thought for one minute that they might be called to testify under oath before a public inquiry where there would be cross-examination by experienced professionals — like the hearing now under way at the initiative of the Public Utilities Board of Newfoundland & Labrador — the answers Toronto Hydro gave to City Council on Friday, January 10 would have been very different.
Councillor Moeser asked about the utility’s inability during the storm to provide accurate estimates of the time required to reconnect all consumers. Toronto Hydro responded that it would be “irresponsible” to give precise recovery times. During the period from December 22 through December 30, Toronto Hydro provided dates and even times for full recovery almost every day, although every one of those promises was unreliable by a wide margin. Here is one of Toronto Hydro’s promises of full recovery within 72 hours from December 22 as the storm was winding down. Many more examples are provided in Part 100 of this series.
Either Councillor Fletcher or Councillor Davis asked whether Toronto Hydro’s Outage Management System worked properly throughout the crisis. The gist of Toronto Hydro’s reply was that the Outage Management System performed just fine (if someone has the precise response, please post it to the comments). If Toronto Hydro had trustworthy whistleblower protection, severe problems with the Outage Management System during the storm recovery would be easy to document.
Councillor Pasternak asked about whether extra staff was on hand to respond at the beginning of the crisis. Toronto Hydro tried to divert the discussion to address only field staff and only the large numbers brought to bear late in the storm recovery process. Among the key points Toronto Hydro neglected to mention was staffing shortages during the early days of the blackout. Early in the storm, key coordination positions in the Control Room were staffed only at a level that is typical of non-emergency conditions despite the fact that additional qualified staff were available and could have been called in. As a result, even the relatively few field crews dispatched early were often stuck in long queues waiting for direction from the Control Room. Later during the storm response, the utility attempted to train staff on the fly to operate Control Room procedures these staff had not used before. These gaps highlights serious deficiencies in emergency planning that unnecessarily extended the outage.
The testimony of top Toronto Hydro officials to City Council can only diminish the credibility of the executive in the eyes of those inside the utility who know the real story of the storm.
The Ontario Energy Board’s failure to follow up on Toronto Hydro’s botched response to Hurricane Sandy and the regulator’s failure to follow up on Toronto Hydro’s phony explanation for the Thorncliffe Park blackout of March 2013, where the failure of a young piece of equipment was blamed on “aging infrastructure”, has proven that reliability is not a priority for the Ontario regulator. The rotating door where senior positions are being exchanged between the Ontario Energy Board and the regulated utilities gives Toronto Hydro officials added confidence they won’t be called to account for the snow storm they are now laying on City Council.
City Council’s review of the ice storm reconvenes on Monday morning at 11:00.