Newfoundland blackout investigation needed: consumer advocate

Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate is calling for an investigation into how the province's power system practically collapsed during the last week.

Kathy Dunderdale welcomes call: 'We want to know what went wrong'

Consumer advocate Tom Johnson wants Newfoundland and Labrador's energy regulator to investigate an island-wide power outage. (CBC )

Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate is calling for an investigation into how the province's power system practically collapsed during the last week.

Tom Johnson, the lawyer who holds the arm's-length appointment with the Newfoundland and Labrador government, said answers are needed to explain how Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro lost power, at times knocking out electricity for 190,000 households and other customers across the island.

Johnson picked up support for his call on Wednesday afternoon from Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale, who said an investigation is warranted. 

Johnson said he would like the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to do an investigation, although he said a full-blown inquiry is not needed.

Nalcor CEO Ed Martin says Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is gathering information on what went wrong with power outages over the last week. (CBC )
"If there was anything that could have been done differently in the circumstances as known and not with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight now, because that's always perfect, but with the benefit of normal prudency and reasonableness," Johnson said.

Dunderdale told reporters Wednesday that she is willing to meet with Johnson about his concerns, and said she had "no issue at all" with his request. 

"We want to know what went wrong," said Dunderdale, who announced that schools across the island will re-open Thursday for the first time since the Christmas break started in December. 

"We want to make sure we don't find ourselves in this circumstance again." 

Newfoundland Power started rolling outages last Thursday, after demand on Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's resources outstripped its energy supply.

A fire at a substation in Sunnyside on Saturday morning knocked out power across the island, just as a blizzard had ended. On Sunday night, another widespread outage occurred when the Holyrood power station failed as crews tried to bring the plant's third and final machine online.

Johnson said he would like to see the PUB "determine what the facts are and let the public know because I think they obviously have a legitimate interest and customers have a legitimate interest in knowing what transpired."

Lorraine Michael, leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's NDP, called on Wednesday for a formal inquiry into what happened.

"I believe an inquiry by the PUB can help provide that and our legislation provides for such an action," she said in a statement. "I hope the premier understands why people are calling for this level of accountability."  

Nalcor to meet with PUB 

Meanwhile, officials with Nalcor Energy, the Crown corporation that generates electricity through Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, met with the PUB on Wednesday afternoon.

Nalcor CEO Ed Martin said the meeting marked the start of a reporting process, and one that he said is necessary to determine what went wrong.

"The meeting was very factual, more or less giving them the detailed information and sequence of events and getting them up to speed on everything that happened," Martin said, who told reporters that Sunday night's outage that was linked to the switchyard at the aging Holyrood generating plant was linked to a blown breaker. 

Martin has noted repeatedly over the last week that Nalcor has been working with infrastructure that is several decades old.


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