The following notes are a best efforts rendition of my appearance at Toronto Hydro’s town hall meeting convened at the Etobicoke City Centre last night.
The meeting was chaired by inquiry commissioner Sean Conway, accompanied by Miki Deric, managing partner of Davies Consulting.
Two people made deputations in addition to myself. One speaker reported having been out of power for eight days with her return to service delayed by mast repairs. She waited for an extended period for a return to service before being informed by the utility that she had to fix her own mast. The actual repair work seemed uncomplicated and was quickly completed once her electrician arrived but the charge from Croatia Electric was $3500.
My deputation followed this outline, although not word for word:
Electricity consumers in Toronto need straight answers to three question:
1. Why was it that despite massive spending on the so-called Smart Grid over many years, all the return to service information provided by Toronto Hydro during the ice storm blackout was wildly unreliable, most egregiously on December 22 throughout the day and late on December 23? Notice that the published scope of the inquiry (presented in PPT slides but apparently not available on-line) does not include reference to the accuracy of the information provided to the public.
2. What can be done in the near term to improve the utility’s ability to provide consumers with accurate return to service information in the event of another large-scale blackout? The technical issues there relate to the functioning of the Outage Management System/Distribution Management System (OMS/DMS), staffing of the power system controller functions in the control room, and many other near-to-hand improvements.
3. What needs to be done to speed future storm recovery without further increasing Toronto Hydro’s distribution rates, which are already by far the highest of any urban utility in Ontario?
Unfortunately, the first order of business for the panel of inquiry investigating these matters is to clear the air over conflicted interests.
The panel has been selected and funded by THESL.
Mr. Conway is affiliated with Ryerson’s Center for Urban Energy. CUE was initiated with a $2.5 million grant from Toronto Hydro paid for by ratepayers. Toronto Hydro has followed up with substantial funding since. Ryerson recently attempted but failed to grant an honorary doctorate to Toronto Hydro’s CEO Anthony Haines, an effort that is apparently still in suspended animation since I published documents and provided them to the president of Ryerson proving that Mr. Haines is an academic fraud and a serial perjurer.
In his day job, Mr. Conway works for the Gowlings law firm and ultimately reports to Mr. McFadden. None of Toronto Hydro’s and the City’s announcements about the panelists disclose this connection.
McFadden has worked directly for Ontario government to promote Smart Grid, including recently chairing the Smart Grid Forum. Toronto Hydro was a key member of that Forum. Failure of THESL’s Smart Grid to deliver information supporting accurate return to service communication from the utility to customers is one of the most important issues the panel should be addressing, although this issue is not identified on the panel’s published terms of reference.
In January, Mr. McFadden joined the board of the Ontario Energy Association, which represents Toronto Hydro.
Toronto Hydro speaks with many tongues. The inquiry is less diversity than it might first appear.
The panel must address all potential conflicts, including documenting all of the money Toronto Hydro pours into CUE and any other ongoing or recent connections between the panellists and the utility.
At the conclusion of my remarks, Mr. Conway immediately announced that “most of the concerns presented be Mr. Adams are outside the scope of the panel’s work”.
At a later point, Mr. Conway repeated the position often espoused by utilities, governments, and insurance companies that because of climate change, we will have to expect increasing frequency of extreme weather (meaning expect to pay more).
Since there were very few presenters and therefore extra time, Mr. Conway asked the other two presenter many supplementary questions. He eventually asked me supplementary questions. Here were my main supplementary points:
Toronto Hydro waited until December 25 — many days into the outage — to first announce officially that consumers with damaged masts were required to fix their own equipment before their power would be restored. This failure to provide timely information extended many people’s outages and demonstrates poor emergency communication planning. In addition, Toronto Hydro made no effort to protect consumers from abuse by electrical contractors repairing masts.
The terms of reference for the inquiry do not address the accuracy of information on return to service issued by the utility. False signals issued by the utility exacerbated customer disruption. I documented these false signals with a list of about 10 citations. This is a major deficiency in the terms of reference. Mr. Deric appeared to concur that false signals was a valid concern, although we did not specifically exchange with each other on this point.
I recommended that the inquiry obtain all the personnel logs from the Control Room for the time periods before the event, normal weekends, and every day of the event. Mr. Deric acknowledge that this was a valid recommendation.
I recommended that the inquiry interview line workers from other utilities who came in on mutual aid, particularly since some of them have substantial experience with emergencies in other jurisdictions and can help benchmark the efficiency of organization of Toronto Hydro’s storm response. Mr. Deric acknowledge that this was a valid recommendation and reported having done some of this already (a remark that impressed me).