There are both planned and unplanned outages – and the impact can vary depending on where (and why) the outage originated on the provincial electricity system.
Our grid is comprised of a complex network of power generation, transmission systems, and distribution systems. In a nutshell, generators produce electricity in a variety of ways, transmitters move power across long distances to where it is needed, and distributors deliver electricity to homes and businesses.
For the most part, distribution related outages (outages in your local area) are smaller and don’t involve large numbers of customers. They are also often resolved quickly depending on the cause.
Most often, local distribution outages are caused by damaged or downed power lines which are restored by your local electricity provider. In our province there are two service providers or electrical utilities – Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Newfoundland Power. If you take a look at the map, Hydro provides power directly to homes and businesses on the Great Northern Peninsula, small coastal isolated communities and all of Labrador. Newfoundland Power owns and manages the distribution system on the Avalon Peninsula, Burin Peninsula and other urban centres on the island of Newfoundland. NF Power is the primary distributor of power right into your home or your business and serves about 85% of all electricity customers in the province.
Hydro is the primary generator of electricity in Newfoundland and Labrador (we sell electricity to NF Power who distributes it across its own distribution network – smaller poles, wires and substations). We also own and operate the majority of the bulk high voltage transmission system in Newfoundland and Labrador (over 3,700 km of transmission lines). If there is a generation supply issue or if damage occurs on a large generator or a large transmission line, the potential impact on customers is broader and may result in a larger, more widespread power outage.
Both utilities also have routine “planned” outages. These are outages that are purposely implemented to do maintenance or routine repair work on the system and usually take place over the summer or fall months. Planned outages are “planned” generally during times when it will be less disruptive to customers. Sometimes this isn’t possible but that is our goal always – to have the least impact on customers and do the work safely.
Many people assume that an unplanned – or an unexpected – outage is caused by equipment failure or a lack of power generation when, in actuality, in most cases it is an isolated event on the distribution system caused by a weather event, such as a winter storm, freezing rain, high wind or lightning.
So, here’s what happens on our end during unplanned outages:
Local Distribution Outages
The distribution system is the final stage in the delivery of power – it carries electricity from the transmission system across lower voltage lines and poles to individual homes and businesses. Local outages are most often caused by downed power lines or damaged equipment during bad weather.
Depending on the service area, either Hydro or NF Power will have crews dispatched to resolve the issue. At Hydro, we first learn about a power outage in one of our service areas when someone contacts our Customer Service Centre or calls Hydro’s 24‐hour toll‐free power outage and emergency number. In the case of impending severe weather, crews are on standby under our storm preparedness and emergency response protocols.
Once information is received, it is then provided to regional teams to address the issue. A front line supervisor will dispatch crews to the area to investigate.
The crew that responds to the outage is responsible for completing the restoration in a safe manner and provides regular progress updates to our Customer Service Centre and Hydro’s Energy Control Centre.
We may receive many calls during an outage caused by a full-force storm or blizzard and they are addressed in priority sequence:
- Our first priority is to respond to 911 emergencies like fires or energized or live lines that are down.
- We then focus on restoring electricity to essential services such as hospitals, seniors homes, fire and police stations.
- We then repair system equipment that serve the largest number of customers, and then move on to repair individual lines serving smaller neighbourhoods and individual customers. This means some homes may be without power while others around them have power. The goal is to bring power back to as many customers at a time as is possible.
Hydro’s Energy Control Centre in St. John’s is the heart of the electrical system. This is where highly trained System Operators monitor and control the provincial power grid 24 hours per day, seven days per week, to maintain sufficient generation supply and a secure transmission network.
The operators ensure that contingency plans are in place and reserve or additional power is available to meet the province’s electricity needs during periods of high demand and when severe cold weather puts additional pressures on generation supply.
During an electricity supply shortage, operators follow a detailed set of procedures to balance supply and demand and ensure reliability of the overall system. It is very rare that public conservation requests and rotating outages would be necessary. In fact, the first time Hydro implemented such extensive measures was last January.
When there is transmission system trouble, the system operators are alerted by its computer system – the Energy Management System (EMS) – which will show where the issue originated. Based on their assessment, the ECC will either start the transmission system restoration process or dispatch field personnel to the affected station or area to investigate.
At the same time, Hydro’s outage communication protocol is followed to ensure customers and stakeholders are kept up to date with timely and accurate information. Please see our recent blog on our commitment to keeping the public notified in the event there are generation supply issues which may affect customers.
For customer concerns or to report an outage on Hydro’s system at any time – you can call -1-888-737-1266.