Nova Scotia Power is facing an onslaught of criticism over its response to post-tropical storm Arthur outages.
Tens of thousands of customers lost electricity and some won't get it back until Thursday. Many complained that it was impossible to report the outages, or to get an estimate as to when the lights would come back on.
Dave Maddeaux of Upper Nine Mile River tried to call Nova Scotia Power over the weekend. He said it was an exercise in frustration.
Maddeaux was without power from Saturday morning to Monday. He said in all that time, he was never able to talk to an actual person from the power company. He kept getting an automated recording.
“You just wanted to scream into the phone that it wasn't hooked up, because there's no human to talk to or anything. That was the whole problem: there was no humans to talk to," he said.
Maddeaux said NSP knew the storm was coming and should have staffed their phone centre appropriately.
On their Twitter account, NSP asked for patience as crews work to restore power.
This has been a challenging storm for our customers and our crews. We know the wait can be frustrating.— Nova Scotia Power (@nspowerinc) July 7, 2014
The utility brought in extra staff to answer calls and to marshal resources, but says it underestimated on all fronts.
"The extent of the damage, the extent of the winds. The winds were higher than predicted. The damage was a little bit more than predicted and we did find customers calling more than we'd expected," Paul Casey, director of transmission and distribution for NSP, said Monday.
To make matters worse, the outage map on the company's website crashed.
"We were overwhelmed by the number of customers seeking that information, so the lesson learned is we need a more robust technology to provide them with that information," said Casey.
A list of outages (without a map) is running on their site until the software issues are resolved.
Energy Minister Andrew Younger said he will be looking at an analysis of Nova Scotia Power in terms of their customer service, as well as their restoration speed.
'The one complaint I heard over the weekend was not that the power was out, but it was the difficulty in getting information about when restoration might be expected' - Energy Minister Andrew Younger
“The one complaint I heard over the weekend was not that the power was out, but it was the difficulty in getting information about when restoration might be expected,” said Younger.
“Nova Scotia Power cannot reasonably be expected to be responsible for a tree bringing a feeder line down, but if there were areas where their infrastructure was not as robust as it should be, then that’s an issue and its one we will certainly be looking at.”
In terms of the speed of the restoration of power, Younger said a shortage of linesmen was not the issue.
He said even New Brunswick was calling to borrow linesmen.
Private contractors not up to snuff?
Andrea McQuillin is the assistant business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 1928, the union that represents linemen at Nova Scotia Power.
She said more people would have electricity right now if the utility didn't rely so much on private contractors.
She said most of the crews restoring power in the province are private contractors who are less knowledgeable about the system and go slower as a result.
NSP said that's not true. It says the private contractors are just as well trained and just as fast as the Nova Scotia Power crews.
Younger said the real problem was that the power company couldn’t put linesmen to work in many places because of high wind speeds.