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PUB starts review of province's power system

Newfoundland and Labrador's Public Utilities Board launched its formal inquiry into the island's power system, following widespread outages in January that left 190,000 customers without power at the peak of the outage.

Muskrat Falls opponents want hydroelectric project included in inquiry

Newfoundland Power crews seen working to restore power to people in St. John's during the island's widespread outages in January. (CBC )

Newfoundland and Labrador's Public Utilities Board launched its formal inquiry into the island's power system, following widespread outages in January that left 190,000 customers without power at the peak of the outage.

The PUB held a meeting on Wednesday to get public input about what major factors it should take into account in its hearings.

Widespread outages fell in the midst of severe weather conditions, including a blizzard, leaving some people in Newfoundland without power for days.

Opponents of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development took the opportunity to push the board to look into the mega-project as part of its review.

Des Sullivan, a St. John's-based political blogger and vocal opponent to Muskrat Falls, said the issues with the power system extend beyond the reliability of the Holyrood generating station, and that the inquiry needs to look at how effective Muskrat Falls will be once online.

Des Sullivan says it's vital to include Muskrat Falls in the review of the province's power system to ensure power will be secure in the future. (CBC)
"The question is whether Muskrat Falls will also provide that security of power supply that the people of this province badly need," he said.

"Every time we get another snow storm, people can't be expected to worry that the lights will go out. We need that security of supply, and we want the board … to broaden the scope of this inquiry to include those other issues."

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is opposed to including Muskrat Falls in the review, but Newfoundland Power doesn't share the opinion.

Karen McCarthy, manager of corporate affairs and communications with Newfoundland Power, said the utility wants to get as many definite answers as possible to ensure customer confidence.

"Speaking on behalf of customers, you know, our customer base at Newfoundland Power is some 255,000 people. We want to be able to reassure the public that we're going to have a well run system well into the future," she said.

The province's consumer advocate Tom Johnson says the massive outages last month shook a lot of people's confidence in the power system. (CBC)
Tom Johnson, the province's consumer advocate, said the board will need to look at every possible factor when determining what issues the review will encompass.

"This was such an extraordinary event, you know, it makes national news when you don't have enough of power to meet needs, and so this has really focused the mind on making sure that the adequate examination takes place," Johnson said.

"We had issues here and there, but on the whole we were used to pretty good reliability, so the constellation of factors that brought together some real discomfort and hardship for people is now forcing an examination - and I think it's welcome."

The PUB said it will announce what issues will be looked at during the review within the next 10 days.

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