Ontario Electricity Regulation Crisis Report Part 132: Inside the CityPlace Blackouts (Corrected)

Folks following this series have seen it all before. The rash of CityPlace blackouts knocking out power to thousands of units in Toronto’s CityPlace district at the end of August and early September bear many similarities so many blackouts documented here before, such as Hurricane Sandy (October 2013), Thornecliff Park (March 2013), and Union Street (March 2014). All are examples of official negligence and neglect. The inside story of the CityPlace outages is deja vu all over again.

CityPlace is fed by two primary cables out of Hydro One’s John Street transformer station. (This statement is as per my original post but is incorrect. CityPlace is fed from Strachan station, which like Windsor station on John street, is maxed out in terms of load served although in somewhat better condition than Windsor.) As CityPlace has rapidly expanded, Toronto Hydro has been delaying upgrading service to CityPlace, waiting until the nearby Bremner transformer station is commissioned. At one point, construction on the transformer station at Bremner was to begin in 2011, but construction didn’t actually get going until 2013.

Meanwhile, load at the 45 acre CityPlace site was growing, with thousands of new residential and commercial units coming to life, many of which were completed in 2012 and 2013.

Toronto Hydro’s attitude was that so long as the CityPlace load was split between two feeders, everything would fine. Toronto Hydro opted to wait for the transformer on Bremner and to not reinforce the supply to CityPlace in the interim.

In the run-up to the Labour Day long weekend, everything was not fine. Sustained hot weather, and the resulting aircon load, strained the system. One of the cables supplying CityPlace faulted. Attempts to repair the cable didn’t hold.

CityPlace was hanging from a single thread.

Experts inside Toronto Hydro warned their superiors that leaving CityPlace relying on a single cable going into the long weekend was imprudent. The weather forecast was calling for the heat wave to continue. The experts recommended replacing one cable.

The problem was that replacing the cable would require overtime work.

To avoid extra overtime expenses, management turned thumbs down on the cable replacement prior to the Labour Day long weekend, gambling that the one cable would hold.

As the in-house experts had warned, the single feeder CityPlace was hanging on overloaded and failed.

Just as predictably, Toronto Hydro’s official explanation for the CityPlace blackouts recycle the half-truth the utility has been relying on for years — “aging infrastructure”. The real story is that the CityPlace Labour Day blackout was caused by a combination of a systemic planning failure leaving inadequate supply to a load area known long in advance to be growing and secondarily by a management decision to turn down a recommended cable replacement before the long weekend in an effort to chisel overtime expenses.

In Ontario’s current regulatory climate, outages are assets for Toronto Hydro — an excuse that has supported the quintupling of capital spending the OEB has approved (management bonuses are indexed in part to capital spending).

Toronto Hydro routinely lies to the public about the causes of blackouts. Toronto Hydro claimed to have “all hands on deck” when Hurricane Sandy struck. Not true. Toronto Hydro claimed that the Thorncliffe Park blackout was caused by “aging infrastructure” when the actual cause was a failure to follow good utility practice of maintaining gas pressure in a piece of equipment not half way through its expected service life. Toronto Hydro’s CEO, Anthony Haines, claimed to Paul Bliss on CTV that the Union Street blackout, that knocked out power to almost a third of the city, was caused by a failure of Hydro One’s equipment. Toronto Hydro’s CEO made this statement after a combined team of Hydro One and Toronto Hydro engineers had determined the cause to be a design error made by Toronto Hydro in a subtransmission replacement project left undetected because Toronto Hydro changed procedures to avoid the delay of cross-checking designs with Hydro One.

What do you expect from a utility headed by Phony Tony, the CEO who lied in sworn testimony at quasi-judicial hearings about his fake credentials for over 20 years?

4 Comments

  1. Toronto Star

    Date: Sept-22 2016

    Mayor John Tory is powering up a debate over the potential privatization of Toronto’s century-old electricity provider, which he says is necessary to help fund city-building projects and upgrade the electricity grid.

    “We have an obligation to look at all the options including unlocking the value that already exists in Toronto Hydro, while keeping it in public hands,” Tory said in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

    “We have an obligation to look at all the options including unlocking the value that already exists in Toronto Hydro, while keeping it in public hands,” Tory said in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

    Tory told the business audience there have been “too many stories” recently of power failures in some of the big new condo towers, often due to aging infrastructure. The city not only has to keep the lights on now but provide power to a rapidly growing city of the future, he said.

  2. Had a smoke with some Toronto Hydro guys working by my office ….one old frustrated, about to retire, worker complained about all the materials being supplied by only one company who’s buddy buddy with the executives…. wonder who supplies them with materials and services

  3. Why is it that repeatedly basic “smart” technology, (Engineering and Construction), gets subverted by political/bureaucratic/self promotion factors?
    The Public Power Grid is supposed to serve the ratepayer.

  4. Pingback: Toronto Hydro whitewashing CityPlace Blackouts | Tom Adams Energy - ideas for a smarter grid

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *