Powerless in Nova Scotia

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society
November 16th, 2004 • 2:13 am

We have a major power outage happening here in Nova Scotia and it is not pretty. The storm didn’t seem to be particularly nasty, although it was quite early. (Typically Nova Scotia gets 6 cm of snow in November on average. This storm alone dumped up to 45 cm of snow in some places.) Yes, the snow was wet and heavy, and the strong winds and freezing rain in places didn’t help. But still… Four major transmission towers knocked down, and over 100,000 without power for an extended period of time — and it’s only November!

It was really quite embarrassing for our electrical monopoly known as Nova Scotia Power. And blaming it on the weather just doesn’t cut it, I am afraid. The fact of the matter is that today’s utility companies simply do not invest in infrastructure upgrades. They’d rather please their shareholders and fatten up the pockets of their senior executives. It’s regular-fare capitalism, but when it comes to electrical power, the very real lives of very real individuals are involved.

The most upsetting aspect of the crisis, however, was the utter inefficiency of the communication process. The power company’s outage lines were quickly saturated, and when you did manage to get through, all you got was a very generic recording saying that it will be several days before power is restored everywhere and advising people to listen to their local media.

Never mind the fact that the local media themselves were hit by the power outage and unable to broadcast. (They did have a generator. It broke down.) Never mind the fact that, when the local media are able to broadcast, all they can say is which schools are closed and where the emergency operations are. No single bit of information about where power might be restored and when.

I realize that the power company probably doesn’t want to give people false hopes by giving them specific dates and times and then not being able to deliver. But by keeping people in the dark (literally!), they end up creating all kinds of wasteful behaviours: university students being sent home (sometimes several hundred kilometers away) and then having to come back the next day because, against all expectations, power has been restored in their university facilities; people travelling great distances to get gas for their cars, supplies, etc. only to find that the power was restored when they got home; etc.

In all this, what remains a mystery is how such a minor storm managed to cause so much damage. It was particularly strange in our region: the storm hit us on Saturday, and we only lost power for a few seconds in the evening. By Sunday noon, the wind had blown all the snow away and it looked like an ordinary November day. There was absolutely no visible damage to the lines in our region. No trees had been knocked down. There was no ice on wires. And then at noon the power just went away. Poof. No visible reason. No indication of what might have caused the outage.

Needless to say, this immediately raised suspicions that the power was actually “siphoned out” of our region to feed bigger urban areas, where power was restored on Sunday. I am no conspiracy theorist, but I’d be very interested in the power utility’s explanation for this scenario. I am used to losing power right in the middle of a storm — but not when the storm is over and has caused no visible damage anywhere in the region!

Anyway, we got our power back late last night (Monday), and all is well for us now. But there are still 75,000 people without electricity for a second day — and this is, quite frankly, unacceptable.

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