Nova Scotia Power says prolonged and widespread outages in the wake of post-tropical storm Arthur were the result of inaccurate weather forecasting and property owners who resisted trimming trees, according to a report filed to the Utility and Review Board today.
It has been six weeks since post-tropical storm Arthur tore through the southwest part of the province ripping out trees and power lines. At one point, more than 245,000 people were without electricity. It took Nova Scotia Power a week to restore service to everyone.
After the storm and public outlash, the Utility and Review Board demanded an explanation, which the power company filed Tuesday afternoon.
“Nova Scotia Power acknowledges that there are areas for improvement and valuable lessons learned from our experience with Arthur,” wrote the utility in its 173-page report to the Utility and Review Board.
Nova Scotia Power says its emergency restoration plan didn’t fail, but Arthur hit “with far more severity” than forecasters had predicted.
“Higher than forecast winds, gusting well over 100 km/h in a region with an abundance of roadside trees in full early summer leaf, meant the impacts on our electricity system were far worse than our modeling had predicted,” wrote Nova Scotia Power.
The utility says when Arthur hit, with the highest gusts recorded at 139 km/h, the trees were full of leaves, making trees easier to uproot.
"We may need more assessors on the ground throughout the province so that when storms of these significance hit, that we're able to get eyesight on all of the transmission distribution lines as quickly as possible,” said Nova Scotia spokesperson Sasha Irving.
Nova Scotia Power says Scotia Weather Services is working on improving the “significant inaccuracies in its forecast, particularly with regard to the wind speeds experienced across Nova Scotia.”
Janet Lunn of Falmouth was one of thousands waiting in the dark.
"It's hard not to come across as bitter because I don't know if Nova Scotia Power can handle another storm," she said.
More than 90 per cent of the power outages caused by Arthur were due to trees hitting lines and other equipment. Power crews scrambled to repair lines over the next eight days.
Nova Scotia Power says ornamental trees on private property are closer to power lines than they should be because owners won’t let the power company trim the branches.
“Nova Scotia Power requires greater public support to obtain the desired clearances in accordance with industry standards,” says the report.
It’s also urging government authorities to prohibit planting trees “in conflict” with power lines. It also wants governments to request the prescriptive right to remove right-of-way hazard trees that threaten power lines.
It says it has increased the money it spends on annual vegetation management from $12 million to $16 million during the past five years.
"Post-Tropical Storm Arthur was disruptive to the lives and businesses of our customers. It was a long, difficult eight days for our employees as well, and the work didn’t end on July 12 when we finished restoration,” says Nova Scotia Power.
“Just as we learned and improved from Hurricane Juan – and the wind, snow and ice storms over the 11 years since Juan – we are confident that the lessons we have learned from Arthur, and the insights that will be brought forward through this review process, will help us better serve our customers during the next major storm.”
During the storm, the utility’s phone lines were jammed and some people were greeted by an automated recording instead of a person.
Nova Scotia Power says it received more calls from customers than ever before. During the eight days of restoration, 425,123 calls came in, more than during the 14 days of Hurricane Juan.
'It's hard not to come across as bitter because I don't know if Nova Scotia Power can handle another storm.' - Janet Lunn
“During peak hours over 300 calls per minute were being taken,” says the report.
The report says more than 24,000 calls were disconnected by its high volume call answering system.
Lunn says wrong information from Nova Scotia Power's customer service line frustrated her the most.
"The person on the phone kept telling me that they showed the power was restored completely to my area. So I started getting really concerned that nobody was actually doing anything to restore power," she said.
NSP says it developed its estimated restoration time model after Hurricane Juan. It shows outages which impact more than 100 customers. However, during Arthur there were more than 3,400 outages impacting small clusters of customers.
"Part of what we saw through this storm was that there was a lot more multiple, smaller events and outages which we haven't necessarily seen in winter storms in the last decade. And so, that meant those customers weren't getting the right information and some of their [estimated restoration times] did change," said Irving.
Live outage map failure
NSP says its online live outage map is normally “a fast, efficient, and up-to-date source of information,” but not so during the near-hurricane like storm.
The site was overwhelmed on July 5 after hitting its peak processing of about 50,000 successful pages per hour
Nova Scotia Power says it’s in the middle of increasing the capacity of its website to handle more outage requests per hour, with a speed of delivery of five seconds or less.
Nova Scotia Power hired a consulting firm which rated its performance during and after Arthur as "within the industry norm.”
The public and other interested interveners have until Sept. 9 to file their comments in response to Nova Scotia Power's report. The company has until Sept. 16 to file another response.
The Utility and Review Board will then determine whether any additional investigations are required, including a public hearing.