New Brunswick

NB Power CEO links climate change to outages

NB Power's president and CEO says climate change has a role to play in numerous and prolonged power outages in the southern half of the province in recent years.

Gaetan Thomas says warmer climate putting more moisture in air and weakening tree systems

An ice storm in December 2013 cost NB Power approximately $12 million. (Submitted by NB Power)

NB Power's president and CEO says climate change has a role to play in numerous and prolonged power outages in the southern half of the province in recent years.

"We are convinced now that climate change has had some impact," Gaetan Thomas said Monday on Information Morning Fredericton.

We are convinced now that climate change has had some impact.- Gaetan Thomas, NB Power president and CEO

An overnight snowstorm of about 15 centimetres of wet snow on Friday knocked out electricity to 30,000 homes and businesses, with the Oromocto area being the hardest hit. About 85 per cent of them had their power restored by Saturday, with the remainder returned to service by Sunday.

Prolonged outages affecting thousands of customers have become more common in recent years. NB Power's annual report for 2014-15 states 195,000 customers — 60 per cent of the utility's customer base — were hit by multiple outages from post-tropical storm Arthur in July 2014. The 2014-15 fiscal year also saw several nor-easters that brought heavy snow, ice and high winds and resulted in several large outages.

"The key here is the moisture," said Thomas, pointing to unspecified research and studies that purportedly show there is "more moisture in the air now than there ever was."

NB Power president says climate change playing a roll in repeated outages. 6:23
"The issue is when you have wet snow when the ground is not frozen," he said.

"Because of the climate change impact, the scientists are telling us the trees roots are actually not going as deep as they used to, so it actually creates a weaker tree system for us."

The weaker tree system more often results in trees being uprooted in unfrozen ground when they take on the weight of wet snow. Then the trees fall on power lines and cut power to customers served by the line.

Thomas also notes New Brunswick has the highest tree density per customer for any electrical utility in North America.

NB Power has increases its tree-trimming budget along power lines, and the frequency of tree-trimming, since post-tropical storm Arthur. But it has yet to trim trees in all areas and Thomas said the Oromocto area hit by last week's outage was scheduled for tree-trimming service next summer.

N.B. Power president Gaetan Thomas in linking climate change to more frequent power outages in New Brunswick. (CBC)
"What we did see was the areas where we did the tree-trimming were not hit as hard," he said. "Where we've done the work, it's paying off."

Thomas said NB Power may have to increase its cycle of trimming trees to once every three or four years in the southern half of the province because trees are now growing so fast.

"We've seen tree branches grow by eight feet in one summer," said Thomas.

"We've had certified arborists that have been consulted and they're saying they've never seen something like that.

"It is associated with the hotter climate and the moisture in the air. That is the perfect scenario for tree growth."
 

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