Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia plans review after some generators failed at public housing buildings during Fiona

The province's Department of Housing is taking a closer look at backup electricity measures at public housing facilities after generators failed to keep emergency systems powered during post-tropical storm Fiona.

'We found since the last two storms that in fact the generators in public housing are few and far between'

A red brick building.
Alderney Manor is a 198-unit public housing complex in downtown Dartmouth. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

When post-tropical storm Fiona knocked out power to Alderney Manor in Dartmouth, N.S., the people who live in the 198-unit public housing complex expected the backup generator on the roof to kick in.

But it didn't.

According to the Department of Housing, the automatic transfer switch failed, leaving the hundreds of people who live in the high-rise building without elevators, lights or electricity for 24 hours.

Paul LaFleche, the deputy minister of housing, noted the problems this week when asked what lessons his department had learned from the storm.

"We learned, for one, that the maintenance and supply of generators is a key issue in our public housing infrastructure," LaFleche told members of the province's community services committee. "We experienced some of that last year, but now we know it is a really critical issue."

Paul LaFleche, the deputy minister of housing, says "maintenance and supply of generators is a key issue in our public housing infrastructure." (Jean Laroche/CBC)

He pledged that the department would examine what went wrong, fix it and come up with a more comprehensive policy on emergency backup measures for the nearly 2,000 public housing buildings the province owns.

"We will be looking to document our own issues with respect to generators in buildings with vulnerable residents," said LaFleche. "That was a learning experience."

According to information supplied to CBC by the department, 12 other public housing facilities also had generator troubles during or after the storm.

Most of the problems happened in buildings run by the Cobequid Housing Authority. The government body manages public housing in an area that stretches from Stewiacke to the New Brunswick border and from the Pictou County line to the start of the Annapolis Valley. 

At Remsheg Villa in Wallace, N.S., electricians had to replace a generator that was installed less than six months ago. It stopped working on the second day the power was out.

Backup generators also failed at:

  • Hillcrest Villa in Springhill.
  • Fundy Manor in Joggins.
  • Noel seniors' building.
  • Marshview Manor in Amherst.
  • Riverview Villa in Stewiacke.
  • Arcadian Apartments in Bible Hill.

At Hillside Villa in River Hebert, the propane tank that supplies fuel to the generator ran out after it developed a leak.

Batteries failed at Great Village's seniors' building and Sunnybrook Manor in Shubenacadie. The Great Village facility also ran out of fuel.

Additional hardships

The failure of the backup systems meant additional hardship for people who live in facilities supplied by wells. Their taps ran dry without power for the pumps.

Two facilities had to rely on portable generators to supply them with emergency power. Backup generators at parts of Mountain View Manor in Parrsboro and Lakeside Manor in Amherst need to be replaced and were out of commission before the storm hit.

According to the department, there were "no significant generator issues to report" in buildings administered by the Western Regional Housing Authority. Despite taking the brunt of the storm, both the Eastern Mainland Housing Authority and Cape Breton Island Housing Authority had "no significant or prolonged generator issues."

According to the province, the biggest issue local housing authorities faced in some hard-hit regions was a lack of fuel to refill generators. 

Pam Menchenton, the civil servant who oversees the work of housing authorities in the province, tried to reassure committee members after LaFleche called on her to provide a general overview of the generator problems.

"None of them were out for long," Menchenton said. "I mean, we got on it pretty quickly."

"Some generators weren't large enough to accommodate the building that they were attached to and they were being run 24/7 for days on end," she said. "So that creates issues, too, just because they are mechanical things and they do break down."

Menchenton suggested future improvements to public housing might include "backup generators to our backup generators."

After the meeting, LaFleche said the situation was concerning enough to warrant a closer examination and maybe clearer policy.

"We found since the last two storms that in fact the generators in public housing are few and far between," said LaFleche. "Some of them service only a common area, some of them service only emergency lights. Some of them service maybe a floor of a building or maybe two or three apartments with vulnerable people in them.

"So, what I would call the consistency or the policy around where and when we have them, how they're maintained, has not been adequate."

According to Krista Higdon, the department's communications adviser, the province owns 1,947 buildings, including 14 high-rises.

Higdon said Nova Scotia's housing authorities rely on 400 generators for backup or temporary power, which she said were in "weather-resistant enclosures but susceptible to extraordinary wind and rain."



Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.