New Brunswick

'Dig a little deeper': Outages prompt questions about NB Power infrastructure

The New Brunswick ice storm of last week has slowly overtaken post-tropical storm Arthur as the province's worst ever power outage event, although there has been no talk yet about whether that will be enough to trigger a full public review of what happened.

Ice storm surpasses 2014's Arthur storm as worst crisis in NB Power history

The ice storm left broken utility poles and a tangled web of wires on the Acadian Peninsula. (NB Power/Twitter)

The New Brunswick ice storm of last week has slowly overtaken post-tropical storm Arthur as the province's worst ever power outage event, although there has been no talk yet about whether that will be enough to trigger a full public review of what happened.

NB Power spokesman Paul Doucet confirmed a number of previously unaffected customers lost power on Monday, pushing the total affected by the ice storm to more than 200,000.

"The ice is insidious," said Doucet.  "It sometimes masks damage and sometimes when it melts it creates the damage."

The ice is insidious.- Paul Doucet , NB Power spokesman

The massive mid-winter blackout is the third record outage to hit NB Power customers in the last three years. It surpasses the 195,000 customers affected by Arthur in July 2014, which took more than two weeks to resolve.

Outages from Arthur surpassed the previous record of 88,000 customers left in the dark by ice storms that hit before and after Christmas 2013. Those problems took 10 days to completely fix.

Internal NB Power reviews

Following those two storms, NB Power was left to conduct its own internal reviews about what happened and whether it was properly prepared. Next door in Nova Scotia, however, the provincial government ordered an independent public review following its own encounter with Arthur.

Neither Premier Brian Gallant nor Energy Minister Rick Doucet has indicated what kind of review, if any, will be ordered in the wake of the ice storm and the continuing problems it has caused, but Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs said some kind of evaluation is required.

A scene from New Brunswick's ice-coated Acadian Peninsula on Friday. (Jerome Luc Paulin/Twitter)

"We are seeing these weather patterns consistently and now we're seeing the infrastructure itself can't bear the weight in certain areas of the potential weather pattern," Higgs said. "I think we need to dig a little deeper on the design of what we have there."

Green Party Leader David Coon says three record outages in three years does require investigation.

'Big questions need to be asked about what a resilient distribution system looks like in a time of rapid climate change.- David Coon, Green party leader

"It's a bigger picture examination that needs to happen at some point," Coon said in an email to CBC News.

"When this calamity is over, big questions need to be asked about what a resilient distribution system looks like in a time of rapid climate change."

Ice storm, Arthur reviews

NB Power crews had to deal with trees bringing down power lines in 2014's post-tropical storm Arthur. (NB Power)
Following the 2013 ice storm, NB Power released a 13-page document called "Lessons Learned" and later produced a nine-page "Key Learnings" report on its Arthur experience, which was filed with the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board.

By contrast Nova Scotia Power filed a 173-page report on its handling of Arthur outages with the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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