PEI

Questions remain unanswered for Nov. 29 power outage on P.E.I.

Almost a month after an Island-wide power outage, questions remain unanswered on what exactly caused the outage.

When transmission was lost from N.B., there wasn't enough backup power on P.E.I. to restore power to everyone

Maritime Electric crews worked for more than four days to restore power to its customers after the Nov. 29 storm. (Maritime Electric)

Almost a month after an Island-wide power outage, questions remain unanswered on what exactly caused the outage.

During a wind and snow storm on Nov. 29, power was out at one point to all 80,000 Maritime Electric customers as well the Summerside utility's 7,000 customers.

The supply from NB Power to P.E.I. was cut off, and both Maritime Electric and the Summerside utility had to go to back-up generation.

It took about eight hours to restore the flow of electricity from the mainland. In the meantime, Summerside was able to provide just over half of its customers with power, and Maritime Electric about a third of its peak demand.

NB Power and Maritime Electric told CBC there were problems with transmission both on the New Brunswick side and the P.E.I. side of the bridge. NB Power said the problems with the transmission lines were "weather related."

'Multiple power line faults'

Before the outage, NB Power was supplying emergency power to Nova Scotia after some transmission failed there, and NB Power said its grid couldn't keep up providing power to its own customers, as well as Nova Scotia and P.E.I. So instead of an overload, it cut both of them off.

NB Power said an internal review found there were "multiple power line faults" in all three Maritime provinces because of the bad weather.

Maritime Electric says it meets after major outages to discuss what can be learned from those incidents. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

NB Power said the system worked as it should and that the information was passed on to a regional oversight body called the Northeast Power Coordinating Council, which makes sure the electricity system in the region is reliable.

CBC asked that group for comment  and was told it doesn't comment on ongoing investigations for "security reasons" and that their findings about critical energy infrastructure aren't made public.

Decommissioning generator

Maritime Electric did its own review, as well. In an email, company spokesperson Kim Griffin said Maritime Electric meets after major outages to talk about things they can learn from those incidents, but she didn't provide more detail.

The provincial government, which is ultimately responsible for making sure the Island's power system is reliable, doesn't appear to be concerned that Maritime Electric back up generation could only supply about a third of the total electricity needed during peak demand during the Nov. 29 outage.

Maritime Electric used to have enough back up power for about half of its peak demand. 

It is decommissioning a 55-megawatt thermal power generator in Charlottetown, and had asked permission to build another one.

Wind turbines shut down

But the province said once the new undersea cable went in, Maritime Electric decided not to build that new generator because it was able to meet its capacity — 260 megawatts, plus an extra 15 per cent as a cushion — through electricity imported from New Brunswick.

It appears the province isn't requiring Maritime Electric to replace that source of electricity generated on P.E.I.

The province says it will continue to expand on-Island power generation through expanding renewable sources such as wind power.

But that wouldn't have helped in the Nov. 29 outage. The winds were so strong that day, all the wind turbines on P.E.I. were shut down, so there was no energy coming from wind.

CBC requested an interview with Energy Minister Paula Biggar to discuss whether P.E.I. needs more on-Island generation, but was told this week she was not available.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Chapin is an award-winning, multi-platform journalist who works for CBC P.E.I. She has also worked for CBC in Halifax, Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C. If you have a story idea to pass on, you can reach her at laura.chapin@cbc.ca.

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