Nova Scotia Power’s communications plan failed miserbly during Arthur

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Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Nova Scotia Power has faced the wrath of consumers in this province in recent years for its rate increases and the gold-plated salaries and bonuses paid to its top executives. So it didn’t come as a surprise that frustrated power users would be heaping criticism on the utility for the outages that occurred as a result of Tropical Storm Arthur.  

To be fair, this was a major weather event with storm damage in some areas as severe as that from hurricane Juan. New Brunswick actually fared far worse in terms of storm damage and the number of power outages. We can hardly be critical of the power crews worked 24/7 to restore power to the thousands of households impacted by this storm. 

Nova Scotia Power has countered some of the criticism about preventative maintenance by pointing out every year they spend roughly $60 million on measures designed to keep the power on including equipment upgrades or replacements, as well as trimming trees and vegetation around power lines and other equipment.

Lately they've been doing even more than usual. In 2010, they began a five-year, $100-million investment plan to target the leading causes of outages in areas around the province. Since more outages are caused by trees or branches falling on power lines than any other reason, the biggest part of that plan involves more tree trimming - $10.4 million out of the $20 million extra spent on reliability efforts each year.

NSP claims Nova Scotians are starting to see real results. In the first half of 2012, outages caused by trees were down 79 per cent compared to the first half of 2009.

Where the utility dropped the ball with this latest storm was in its communication plan. Many customers complained that it was impossible to report the outages, or to get an estimate as to when the lights would come back on.  

NSP says it brought in extra staff to answer calls and to marshal resources, but says it underestimated on all fronts. To make matters worse, the outage map on the company's website crashed. 

Paul Casey, director of transmission and distribution for NSP, admits they were overwhelmed saying the lesson learned is they need a more robust technology to provide them with that information.   

What was even more disconcerting was the fact the information operators were providing the public on restoration times was totally inaccurate. Personally, I had contacted Nova Scotia Power Saturday evening about the outage affecting us at Tidnish to be told we could expect our power to be restored by 11:30 that night. There was still no power when we left the cottage Sunday afternoon. Both Premier Stephen McNeil and Energy Minister Andrew Younger are promising to look at an analysis of Nova Scotia Power in terms of their customer service, as well as their restoration speed. Once the utility has completed repairs to its transmission lines, it better start working on its obviously damaged lines of communications.   

 

Geoff deGannes is a past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.  

 

Organizations: Nova Scotia Power, Tantramar Radio Society

Geographic location: New Brunswick

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  • jake
    August 13, 2014 - 16:04

    It is very hard to estimate time of restoration from call center. Until the linemen go and assess the damage and even then things don't always go to plan. Its not like its just as simple as flicking a switch. There were many learnable take aways from this storm.