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Friday, July 12, 2024
Guest Column: Why the power went out in NOTL last week
NOTL Hydro president Tim Curtis. Supplied

The power went out in much of Niagara-on-the-Lake last Thursday, June 13. We asked NOTL Hydro CEO Tim Curtis what happened and he provided this detailed explanation:

Tim Curtis
Special to The Lake Report

Most outages are easy to identify and fix. 

When an outage occurs, NOTL Hydro cannot tell immediately what the cause is or where it occurred.  However, we can tell who is out of power and this gives us a good indication. 

In some cases, all the customers are fed from one transformer so that makes it obvious where the problem is. In other instances, a whole feeder may be down.  We then have our lineman patrol the line and they will usually identify the problem. 

It may be a downed tree, a lightning strike, an animal contact, an equipment failure or an auto accident.  Customer calls are helpful in this regard as they sometimes report a loud bang or a flash and this gives us a location. 

Once the problem is identified, NOTL Hydro staff switch their focus to fixing the problem. Depending on the severity of the problem, they may also reroute power to reduce those customers affected to just those in the immediate vicinity.

It was not easy to pinpoint the cause of the June 13 outage. Our monitoring system told us the York Station feeder was out but we did not know where or why. Patrolling the line did not identify any issues. 

We narrowed down the issue to a fault on an underground section of the feeder line. Once we knew this, we were able to come up with a strategy to restore power.  In total the outage lasted 1.5 hours, from 1:03 to 2:32 p.m.

But there was another factor, an unnecessary one, in our opinion, that delayed the restoration of power a little bit. More importantly, it meant more customers were affected by the outage. 

The town is served by two separate transmission stations, owned by NOTL Hydro. Each station is capable of serving the entire town. 

In late May, Hydro One contacted us to say that they had identified an issue with some of their equipment on the 115 kV line that serves the NOTL Station. They needed an outage to correct this issue. This was entirely appropriate and we worked with them to schedule the outage.

We are billed for transmission based on the peak demand at any point in the month at each of our stations.  This billing rule was set by our regulator, the Ontario Energy Board. 

This is fine in a normal month as the combined peak of each station is roughly the same as the full town peak. However, if you shift load or remove a full station from service for a period of time then the combined peaks are significantly higher than the actual peak of the town, the monthly charge is that much higher. 

To avoid this, NOTL Hydro takes the station out of service for the full month to avoid this “double peak billing.”

These charges are not incurred by NOTL Hydro but are passed directly to all our customers.  In 2021, we had a full station “double peak billing” event and the cost was $90,000.

We took the NOTL Station out of service for June so Hydro One could do its repairs and to avoid another big  “double peak billing.”

When the feeder that went down on June 13, we had around 2,500 customers on it instead of the usual 200 or so.  Also, the flexibility of having two stations was lost so this made the restoration of power a bit more complicated, increasing the length of the outage.

NOTL Hydro has complained about “double peak billing” issue for years as have a number of other Ontario electric utilities.  The energy board is now holding a hearing on the issue and NOTL Hydro is actively participating in it with other utilities. 

Hopefully, a common-sense solution will result so that NOTL Hydro and Hydro One can conduct repairs and maintenance without stations having to be shut down for a full month.

NOTL Hydro tries to balance efficient services leading to low rates and maintaining good reliability. 

Our reliability, as measured by the average length of outages, is better than the industry average. A recent review of rates showed our residential rates are the seventh lowest in the province (out of 70) and our business rates are the ninth lowest. 

We apologize for any inconvenience from the latest outage as we work to continuously improve our service.

 

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