When is a Blackout Inquiry “Independent”?

Here is an insightful analysis of the role of the Public Utilities Board in Newfoundland & Labrador in inquiring into the ongoing blackout issues in that province. The analysis addresses the same concerns I presented in Part 103 of the Ontario Electricity Regulation Crisis Report where I concluded that Toronto Hydro’s self-commissioned, self-selected, and self-funded blackout inquiry cannot be independent.

13 Jan 2014
The Telegram (St. John’s)
BY RON PENNEY AND DAVID VARDY Ron Penney is a former deputy minister of justice for the province and former St. John’s city manager. David Vardy, is a former clerk of the Executive Council and chairman of the Public Utilities Board.
PUB probe is welcome news

We are pleased that the Public Utilities Board (PUB) will conduct a full enquiry, including public hearings, into the failure of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (NLH) to meet its legal obligations to provide electricity to the province.
The proposal of the government to hold an “independent enquiry” under terms of reference it establishes and conducted by someone it appoints cannot inspire confidence and was obviously an attempt to foreclose a PUB inquiry and hearing.
The PUB has acted with courage and integrity and we are confident it will get to the bottom of why this has happened and what remedies must be put in place to prevent repetition of the threats to public safety and security posed by instability in our electrical system.
We trust this inquiry will also closely examine the reliability issues associated with the Muskrat Falls project, which may make last week’s problems seem minor in comparison, with possible outages up upwards of a month or more if there is a loss of power, according to Manitoba Hydro International, who recommended a higher construction standard be used in building the transmission lines from Muskrat Falls to customers on the island and on the mainland.
While the recent outages were driven principally by generation failures, during high wind conditions and low temperatures, there is also a high risk associated with the 1,100 km transmission line from Muskrat Falls to St. John’s.
Many power interruptions in the past have been caused by the icing of transmission lines and power poles combined with high winds, when the temperature has been just below the freezing point.
We are concerned that government has not given sufficient weight to the question of reliability and sufficiently compensated for the risks associated with this long distance transmission line, given the adverse maritime climate and the sub-sea crossing under the iceberg-scoured Strait of Belle Isle.
These risks are exacerbated by the high wind and icing conditions prevalent in alpine conditions, on high ground in southern Labrador, on top of the Long Range Mountains and across the Isthmus of Avalon.
Nalcor’s plan to remove the Holyrood plant from the island’s generation system after the interconnection of Muskrat Falls and to rely on hydro generation exclusively must be revisited.
For this reason we believe that it would be short sighted to limit the board’s inquiry to the system as it is currently configured. We have written to the PUB to frame a wider range of issues which should be included in the terms of reference of the board’s inquiry and hearing. A copy of this letter is posted on the PUB website.
The recently approved Energy Access Agreement with Nova Scotia commits from 44 per cent to 57 per cent of Muskrat Falls energy output to Nova Scotia. Yet there is no provision for emergency power to flow the other way, from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.
Exhibit 106, submitted by Nalcor to the PUB as part of the Muskrat Falls hearings, reveals that emergency energy from Nova Scotia would be required in the event that the Labrador interconnected link were out of service for long periods.
Despite this requirement, there has been, to the knowledge of the undersigned, no firm contract between Emera and Nalcor for the provision of such emergency power.
What action has been taken to arrange for such emergency power supply from sources on the mainland?
There is a troubling aspect to the PUB process and that is the way in which the consumer advocate is appointed, particularly when the focus is upon a provincially-owned Crown corporation, such as Nalcor or NLH.
In Nova Scotia, the consumer advocate is appointed by the Utility and Review Board. In our case, the consumer advocate is appointed by government with a budget also approved by government.
That may not make much difference in matters involving privately owned utilities, such as Newfoundland Power, but it certainly does in the case of an inquiry into the actions of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, which is a corporation owned by the government. There is an inherent conflict of interest.
We are calling for the government to give the PUB the power to appoint an independent consumer advocate and allow the PUB to determine what financial resources must be made available, along with other terms and conditions of appointment.
We also recommend that the government show deference to the initiative of the PUB to undertake an independent inquiry with public hearings rather than to duplicate the work of the board or implicating the board and Newfoundland Power in causing the recent outages.
The board is a duly appointed quasijudicial body which can restore confidence in the system if allowed to discharge its statutory duties by receiving all relevant information from the public, NLH and independent energy experts, through an open and transparent public hearing.
We ask that government reconsider its proposed investigation and allow the PUB to function in accordance with its mandate and in keeping with good governance practices throughout Canada and the United States.

18 Comments

    • This post was edited to link to the source originally copied. Instead of the copied text, I have linked to the original. Those posting comments on this site are asked to respect the authorship of original material by obtaining permission if you intend to copy large sections of published material.

    • This post was edited to link to the source originally copied. Instead of the copied text, I have linked to the original. Those posting comments on this site are asked to respect the authorship of original material by obtaining permission if you intend to copy large sections of published material.

      • Thanks Tom,

        I was just being helpful in case you where busy and not up to speed with the mainstream media about the Hydro Mess and Rot…

        I really now don’t understand why your paying for broadband space for your web site, Tom Adams Energy – ideas for a smarter grid where a person really cant share and speak up or show their concern…

        Anyways Tom, I think your web site with the above facts are and will not going to get anywhere as you where hoping to achieve with a good and strong reader ship and folks coming in to join you in making some change…

        Sorry Tom, I will not be coming around anymore and lets leave it at that…

        All The Best Tom, and good luck!!!

        I think your going to need a lot more support in the near future and perhaps letting everyone who has a concern and something to say and share in regards to the Power Sector in Canada and in Ontario and least but not last how good old Toronto Hydro is and will be screwing everyone with their new 100% higher rates within the next 3 to 5 years… but the same or less service you can rest assure on that….

        Anyways Tom all the best!

        • Santers,
          Copyright infringement dosen’t allow people to use more than maybe a couple of paragraphs to be used from publications and then quotation marks are requied for even this much. And the reference has to be cited as well.
          Tom could be sued if the author objects to using his/her material.

          So please don’t go away. Just be careful when you post.

        • I wrote to Santers to address ways of citing other original works, but the email address Santers provided bounces back. All serious comments or criticisms that are on topic are welcome on this site. However, respect for original authorship when quoting is one of the rules I try to maintain.

  1. Ohio has mobile command units which can be used for any kinds of emergencies and coordinate the various groups involved in an emergency. Used there for severe weather events.
    Ontarians should take a look around them to find out what other places do and what works best.
    People in southwestern Ontario keep an eye on weather conditions in Ohio and Michigan as they are apt to be the next victims of severe weather.

    • Your 100% right and in every aspect Barbara,

      But who is listening to you or to me and other concerned folks in this town???

      No one, cuz clearly it seems that most of all of these Canadians like to be guided by the Blind at most or all times and that’s the sad part of everything that is and has been taking place in this Country and Big Time in Ontario for over the last 25 years….

      Trust me its not going to get better its only going to get worse until it really gets very clear to Canadians that something isn’t and doesn’t add up… but when that time does arrive I am sorry it will be too late…

        • Hi Barbara,

          If the power companies or contractors have the proper lightning arrestors and most current type in the market and proper grounding in the spans and a both points of the under ground drops direct lighting hits wont open the breakers or with only one with out lights, in a lighting storm…

          Transmission grid another story, if the Skywire or the very top or two very top wires you see on towers are like 40 to 100 years old for sure you will have a couple of breakers opening and no lights for a few hours or perhaps days in the time we are in winter and its going to take lots of time to cut and restring skywire for hundreds of miles or Kms….

          As long as your equipment and grounding are 100% up to spec and testing every 6 to 12 months a year everything will be good in regards to Lighting and very high winds…

          Ice and Rain are a different kind of kettle of fish….

          Unless we both dream and everything is all under ground in a protective duct system, not direct buried this application is not designed for – Temps like up in Canada, but Utilities still use this type of cabling system cuz its very cheap but it doesn’t last more then a year to 5 years max if your lucky….

          • As you pointed out, things are done the cheap way. Wire is very expensive now.
            People can check out the grounding on their local lines if they know what to look for.

          • Southwestern Ontario is in a weather crossfire due to the way the Great Lakes come together here and the result is severe weather that dosen’t occur in other places in Canada.
            The Maritimes get their share of severe weather as well.

  2. Hi Barbara,

    Then what is the problem or in simple English why isn’t anyone, Power Company, or our great elected folks who are their to take care of us and these kind of matter???

    Like you said Barb,
    Southwestern Ontario is in a weather crossfire due to the way the Great Lakes come together here and the result is severe weather that dosen’t occur in other places in Canada. The Maritimes get their share of severe weather as well. – See more at: http://www.tomadamsenergy.com/2014/01/13/when-is-a-blackout-inquiry-independent/#comments

    I can think of a million and 1 things that can done and changed in regards to the power grid why can they also do the right thing and who or what is stopping them???

    Perhaps for the last 20 years plus this Hydro game is just a game and all these power companies are only out for one thing like making sure their payrolls are alive and kicking? and perhaps on the same note the their CEO always makes his or her 1.5 million a years plus a great pension in 3 to 4 years as a CEO???

    As far as I am concerned the Entire Generation and Wire Grid needs to be sold off, ASAP and looks like the Ontario Liberals are making that happen in their level in their next election platform… and I hope the new mayor and the new city council really look into doing the same thing at Toronto Hydro…

  3. Who would buy it with the shape it’s in?

    Private stockholder power companies pay corporate officers for enhansing shareholder value.
    Toronto Hydro is owned by Toronto/the public so why should any bonuses be paid?
    If these guys want a bonus let them get a job with a private company.
    The idea is to provide electricity at as low a cost as possible.

  4. Off topic but Tom brought up some important issues awhile back.

    Sunshine Hours, Jan.13, 2014
    “Baby Birds Doomed By Lightbulb Ban”
    Incandescent light bulbs are used to provide warmth for injured and recovering birds.
    They serve an important role inside incubators.
    http://sunshinehours.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/baby-birds-doomed-by-lightbulb-ban

    The city slicker environmentalists never stopped to think issues through and this goes for politicians too.

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

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