06 January 2014

The Great Blizzard/Blackout 2014 #nlpoli

Some observations:

1.  Yep.  It’s a crisis.

When you have a major utility cutting electricity to people in a blizzard at random, for random periods of time because it cannot supply enough electricity to meet demand, you have a crisis.

That’s what it feels like to the people in it.  That’s what it is.

People never knew when their lights would be on or off, nor would they know for how long.  The Newfoundland Power and the NL Hydro operations people who briefed the public were straightforward and factual.  They did their jobs well.

The thing is that the public emergency system, including the politicians, didn’t clue in that randomly shutting off power to thousands of voters at a time over the course of several days might be a bit of a problem for the voters.

2.  Only idiots deny the obvious.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale told reporters on Sunday that she did not think the great blackout and blizzard made a crisis.  She said the same thing to a national audience as well via CBC. Whoever told gave her that line is the same person who keeps writing words like “ancillary” in her media lines.

They avoid plain English just as they obviously avoid plain thinking. 

No wonder Kathy Dunderdale is tanking at the polls.  All she has done is reaffirmed the impression she is out of touch with the concerns of everyday folk.

3.   Nalcor’s interest, not the public interest

Give a listen to Kathy Dunderdale’s interview with CBC.  Notice how she talks about how “we” don’t have power to customers and that “we” hope to have everyone back on line by Sunday.

Is she speaking for Nalcor or Newfoundland Power?  After all, those are the only people who can legitimately talk about customers and what they are doing.

Part of the problem for Kathy Dunderdale rests in this perpetual confusion of hers of Nalcor’s corporate interest and the public interest.  She thinks she speaks for the latter but in fact, she often speaks for the former. 

Nalcor’s interest and the public interest should be the same thing.  Sometimes they aren’t.  This is one of those occasions when they aren’t. Voters know that.  Too bad that Kathy and her ministers are siding with Nalcor, not voters.

4.   Only a complete idiot would drag Muskrat Falls into it.

To make matters worse, Dunderdale blamed the problem on old equipment and tied the whole thing to Muskrat Falls saying that there “is a solution coming.”

If nothing else, telling people freezing in the dark in 2014 that they will be warm in 2017 at the cost of $8.0 billion only adds a monstrous insult to the considerable injury people are already feeling and which Dunderdale has already dismissed out of hand.

People tend to focus on the here and now.  They are freezing today.  Telling them it will take years of further rolling blackouts until a solution comes along that they will pay for is just nutty.

5.  We need thermal generators, too.

What really makes the Muskrat card a stupid play is that it just isn’t true. 

For one thing, brand new, hydro Muskrat Falls will actually contribute less electricity (560 MW less 170 free for NS = 390) than old thermal Holyrood (490MW).

For another thing, as part of the Muskrat Falls plan, Nalcor will install 520 MW of new thermal generation to help balance the line loads,  provide on-demand power to offset demand spikes,  and replace existing thermal generators that are just wearing out with age.

There are still Muskrat Falls supporters who talk about getting rid of oil fired generators like Holyrood.  These people didn’t even pay attention to Nalcor’s own briefing material:  they clearly just don’t have a clue what is going on.

6.  What happens when the Muskrat link goes down?

Dunderdale’s Muskrat ploy in the middle of this crisis will also make people wonder how Nalcor plans to cope with the inevitable situation when the line from Labrador to the island goes down.

The answer is either ugly - rolling blackouts – or laughable – importing shiteloads of electricity from the mainland via Nova Scotia.  The last one is only laughable because importing electricity is actually cheaper and more reliable than Muskrat Falls. In fact, we learned just before Christmas that some of the gang at Nalcor are looking forward to importing cheap electricity from the mainland… after they’ve built Muskrat Falls.

7.  Karnack and credibility

During Sunday’s news conference Ed Martin referred to current demand compared to average demand over the same month for the past five years. That time frame has come up a couple of times from Nalcor since Friday.

By the sounds of things, Nalcor knew in December that they’d be shy about 100 MW of generation for the early part of January when the two gas generators ran into some repair problems. They checked the average demand for the past five years and figured they’d get by.  Get by as long as demand didn’t go up, which it did.

So basically, the gang at Nalcor couldn’t reliably predict demand or, for that matter, generation such that they’d be able to cover off eventualities.

You see, this problem wasn’t caused by massive increases in demand, although Nalcor tried to spin it that way on day one.  The cause of the crisis was a combination of factors including a bit of bad luck on timing. 

The age of the equipment wasn’t really an issue since good planners will include the age of the equipment and the potential for repairs into their plans.  Plan for the worst.  Hope for the best.  The only people who are trying to blame this crisis on old equipment are people who are also denying it is a crisis and, well, that pretty much tells you all you need to know about them in the first place.

Anyway, the actual events in January 2014 make it plain that Nalcor didn’t do the great planning job Ed Martin claimed at the news conference.  The facts speak for themselves and that’s the end of it.

Well, the end of it, except that the facts therefore undermine a bunch of other Nalcor claims about their magical predictive ability.  You see, Nalcor claims they can forecast a whole pile of extra electricity they can sell to Nova Scotia out of water that may or may not appear depending on how much rain there is.  Lots of people will be double-checking Nalcor’s forecasts and their assurances in light of events like this crisis.