New Brunswick

NB Power: 'It's not over yet, but we are progressing very well'

About 14,000 homes and businesses remain without electricity on Tuesday, one week after the ice storm hit New Brunswick, but NB Power president and CEO Gaetan Thomas says crews are "progressing very well."

NB Power president Gaetan Thomas expects cleanup from the ice storm will continue for 'a few weeks'

Todd McInnis, a line technician with Maritime Electric, tweeted this photo Tuesday morning with the caption: 'A sea of trucks and crews ready for the day to restore power in New Brunswick.' (Todd McInnis/Maritime Electric)

About 14,000 homes and businesses remain without electricity on Tuesday, one week after the ice storm hit New Brunswick, but NB Power President and CEO Gaëtan Thomas said crews are "progressing very well."

About 11,000 customers remain without power on the Acadian Peninsula, the hardest hit region, and another 1,400 in Kent County and 900 in the Miramichi region are also waiting for electricity.

"When you look at my 35-year career, this one will stand as the biggest storm certainly in the last 30 or 40 years," Thomas told Information Morning Moncton.

On the Acadian Peninsula power has been restored to 56 per cent of customers and today crews "are going to shoot for 70 per cent in that area," he said.

We're not going to talk money or compensation at this stage.- Gaëtan Thomas, NB Power president 

In the rest of the province, according to NB Power estimates, most homes and businesses should be reconnected by the end of Tuesday.

Thomas said estimating restoration times has been challenging in the aftermath of the ice storm, particularly on the Acadian Peninsula, where crews are seeing unprecedented damage to hydro poles.

"On the [Acadian] Peninsula we're going to see between 350 and 400 poles ... the ice in the peninsula was so thick they had to hit it hard, and it ends up damaging some of the switches, components like fuses, and then you have to go back again the next day."

Thomas said the many power crews in the province helping NB Power are expected to remain for "a few weeks."

"Even when we have restored all customers, you know there's going to be a lot of cleanup to do."

'Our customers are getting impatient'

Thomas said NB Power is improving its response to major storms with extensive outages and compared this ice storm to post-tropical storm Arthur in July 2014.

"This time we had twice the number of poles from Arthur, and we did most of the cleanup from Arthur, restored most of the poles, in the first two weeks," Thomas said. "So we're on our way to certainly do that on this one."

He added that NB Power has also improved its co-operation with the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization, with warming centres open on the Acadian Peninsula, Kent County and the Miramichi within two days.

"I can assure you that everybody is working together," he said. "To me that is an improvement from the past, where people were not as organized quickly and I think it's a success story from that perspective.

"Our customers are getting impatient but I have visited a dozen warming centres and we are very well-received. It's not surprising from New Brunswickers."

Tree-trimming program works

Thomas defended the tree-trimming program NB Power began three years ago in the hopes of preventing widespread damage to transmission lines and hydro poles during severe storms.

He said it is a six-year program and areas in the south where the tree-trimming has been completed fared well during the latest storm.

So far, NB Power's tree-trimming program has focused mostly on the southern half of the province, where freezing rain is more common. (NB Power)
Thomas explained that the decision was made to begin in the southern half of New Brunswick because that is the area where freezing rain is more likely to occur.

"Historically, that kind of freezing rain doesn't occur often up north but you know what? [The tree trimming] has helped us tremendously on this storm because I think it would have been a way longer time to restore without it.

"In this case it's ice loading ... we have to be prepared for something like this, and I think we were reasonably well-prepared. It's not over yet but we are progressing very well."

Thomas said the rights-of-way required around power lines may need to be revisited.

"On the distribution system the rights-of-way are only 18 feet, and when you have trees that are 30 feet tall, 20 feet away from the line, they're still hitting the lines," he said.

When asked about compensation for NB Power customers affected by the ice storm, Thomas said he wasn't prepared to make any comment, choosing instead to focus on restoring electricity and keeping people safe.

"We're not going to talk money or compensation at this stage," he said.