Power to the people
By Trevor J. Adams 30 March 2018 Share this story
Most people hold Nova Scotia Power to a pretty low standard, as essential services go. Several times a year, sometimes in rough correlation with the weather and sometimes for no discernible reason, thousands of Nova Scotians lose electrical service. And these aren’t brief outages: blackouts that used to last an hour or two now last much longer. (I endured three blackouts of 12+ hours this winter, and I wasn’t alone).
As if shivering in the dark isn’t enough fun, Nova Scotians get the added bonus of never knowing how long these outages will last.
During a storm in March, my power went out at 7 p.m. The outage update line assured me that I could find up-to-date information on Nova Scotia Power’s online map. That map made the amazing prediction that power would be restored at exactly the same time all over the province: 11:30 a.m. the next day.
The next morning, my outage disappeared from the map, even though the juice still wasn’t flowing. After a while, it reappeared, with a new restoration time of 11:30 p.m. In a final twist, power returned around 1 p.m. Yes, it’s lovely they had it done “early” (using the term in its loosest possible sense), but it illustrates how meaningless the restoration estimates actually are. I share this story not because it’s exceptional, but because just about everyone I know has many similar stories.
And it makes me wonder how much we can trust the other information we get from Nova Scotia Power.
According to Hydro Quebec’s annual rates survey, we pay among the highest power rates in Canada. And for that, we get some of the country’s least-reliable service. Nova Scotia Power and its defenders will tell you these outages are unavoidable. If you live on the North Atlantic, you have to expect this sort of thing. Weather is erratic. Salt damages equipment.
Neither phenomenon is unique to our province. Yet all around the North Atlantic, utilities have better reliability records. If you don’t believe that, ask anyone who lives in the U.K., Norway, Iceland, New England, etc. how many power outages they have and how long they last. In your heart, I bet you already know how Nova Scotia compares.
I’m not an expert on power-grid maintenance, so I don’t know what specifically Nova Scotia Power must do to solve its problems. But Nova Scotia Power has experts, and I bet they can figure it out if they apply themselves. Right now, Nova Scotia Power seems disinclined to change the situation. We hear little about preventative maintenance to forestall power failures or any long-term strategy to improve reliability. Instead, we hear a lot about how hard line crews work (as if anyone disputes that) and how lucky we are that outages aren’t longer.
There’s no motivation for Nova Scotia Power to change anything, because it keeps raking in profits. The solution has to come from Stephen McNeil and the provincial government. Service will get better when Nova Scotia Power faces real penalties for its failure. A hit in the revenue stream is the best way to convince any profit-driven company to change. Until then, we’ll keep having to expect power outages whenever there’s a strong wind, and wonder if the next failure will be the one that lasts for days instead of hours.
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.
Trevor has been a magazine editor and journalist in Halifax since 1998. He's won multiple Atlantic Journalism Awards and was shortlisted for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence in 2014.
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