Premier Stephen McNeil says Nova Scotia Power's response to the damage caused by post-tropical storm Arthur is "inexcusable," and ordered a review of the utility by provincial regulators.
McNeil, Energy Minister Andrew Younger and the minister responsible for emergency measures, Mark Furey, held a news conference in Middleton on Friday about the response to last weekend’s storm.
'If this is the most reliable infrastructure in the history of this company, I'd hate to see when it was vulnerable.' - Premier Stephen McNeil
McNeil slammed the utility's response to the storm, including its failure to communicate what was happening and when power could be expected back on.
"Either the utility was not aware what was happening or they were not being forthright with the information," said McNeil.
He said either way, NSP's behaviour was "inexcusable."
Commenting on NSP's assertion that the utility's infrastructure is among the most reliable in Nova Scotia's history, McNeil said, "If this is the most reliable infrastructure in the history of this company, I'd hate to see when it was vulnerable.
"We cannot understand, quite frankly, what went wrong."
'Nova Scotia Power, smack 'em!'
Annapolis Valley resident Margaret Nield was on hand for the premier's news conference. Her power was just restored after five days. She says each day, she believed NSP when they said her electricity would be on soon.
She says she ended up losing almost all of the meat she and her husband first raised, then froze.
"I would like Nova Scotia Power to pay me for the five days I didn't have power," Nield said. "I've used some very strong language on the phone to Nova Scotia Power."
Although her power is back, Nield still can't believe it took so long.
"This is 2014, not 1914," she said. "This is ridiculous. It's like living in a third world country. There's no excuse for what they did. None."
Speaking to McNeil directly, she asked for government grants to help residents buy generators. "It's going to happen again," she told him.
As her conversation with McNeil ended, Nield had clear instructions for the premier: "Nova Scotia Power, smack 'em!"
Provincial officials say the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board will review Nova Scotia Power's response to Arthur and the aftermath of the storm.
The province will also examine ways to help NSP during long outages, including possibly sending crews from the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department to clear the lines of branches.
The province's Emergency Management Office will look at coordinating local responses to long outages, officials said Friday.
Sasha Irving, who speaks for NSP, said in a news release the utility "welcomes" the announcement of a public review.
"We always review our performance after every significant storm and look for lessons we can learn to perform better," said Bob Hanf, NSP president and CEO.
"With a major storm like Arthur, a review process with the Utility and Review Board is appropriate, given the impact of the storm and the number of Nova Scotians who were affected. We look forward to any learnings this review can provide. We will begin working to compile data for the review next week. Right now, our first and only priority must be safely restoring power to the last of our customers who are out."
NSP not 'meeting its responsibility'
The premier said the province has a responsibility to hold NSP to account. He said NSP is not "meeting its responsibility" as the only power option in Nova Scotia.
McNeil said for that reason, there must be performance standards in place.
'We cannot understand, quite frankly, what went wrong.' - Premier Stephen McNeil
Both Younger and McNeil agreed that better communication is something that needs to be in place for NSP.
"There's no question their communications tool [website] is a complete failure," said McNeil.
The premier said the province will also examine its own systems, in terms of emergency response.
"We all know that our weather pattern is changing, how do we change to adapt?" he said.
2,300 customers still out
Stacey Pineau, a spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power, says the number of outages will fluctuate through the day as some people are disconnected, briefly, so that others can be reconnected.
At last count, 187 crews were working across the province to restore the remaining 2,300 customers who were out Friday afternoon, Pineau says.
Hanf said over the past four years, NSP has spent more than $70 million extra on "storm hardening the electricity system, above and beyond its normal $60-million reliability budget."
"Investing in additional equipment upgrades and tree clearing has helped us significantly improve service reliability over the past few years, but post-tropical storm Arthur was a severe storm unlike any Nova Scotia has suffered since Hurricane Juan."
At the peak of the power outages from post-tropical storm Arthur, 200,000 customers lost electricity, Hanf said.
Earlier this week, Hanf said restoration times are based on past experiences and are an estimate. He also defended Nova Scotia Power’s restoration efforts, saying the utility called people back to work from their vacations after running scenarios a week before the storm.