Canadian Underwriter

Rural Nova Scotians want power grid designed for a changing climate

February 17, 2023   by Michael Tutton - THE CANADIAN PRESS

Powerline crossing wetland in Nova Scotia

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HALIFAX – Residents of a rural Cape Breton community that has lost power during cold and windy weather are looking for compensation from the utility – and a grid designed for the changing climate.

Parker Donham, a resident of Boularderie Island, says he and other residents who suffered property damage due to power failures are hoping for a resolution when they meet with two vice-presidents from Nova Scotia Power on Monday.

Donham was forced to move to a friend’s house after losing power in mid-December during a windy storm, and his water system was damaged on Feb. 4 when temperatures fell to -25 C.

His neighbours, Joella and Jim Foulds, are also seeking compensation after their refrigerator was damaged beyond repair when they lost power intermittently over three days in February.

Donham says the view of many in the community is that the grid needs to be made resilient to cope with very cold or gusty days, as scientists predict more extreme weather in the decades to come. He says if there’s no resolution from meetings with the utility, the residents are considering applying for a public inquiry with the province’s energy regulator.

Nova Scotia Power, a subsidiary of Emera Inc., sent out an online response to the public criticisms of the Feb. 4 outage, saying the low temperatures “overloaded electrical equipment,” adding it had been 20 years since such cold weather had been experienced in the province.

Joella Foulds said in an interview that losing power repeatedly over a three-day period in early February – sometimes at two-minute intervals – caused her to lose several hundred dollars’ worth of food and will require her to replace her $2,000 fridge and freezer unit.

She says the utility offered her $200 as a “goodwill gesture,” adding that the company told her it wasn’t legally responsible to provide compensation.

“I feel they’re clearly responsible because I feel they do not keep their equipment up to par,” Foulds said. “This kind of weather happens all over Canada. We just don’t get it very often. They clearly were not prepared for the temperatures of the load that would be required at a time it was cold.”

Foulds said she also lost power in December during a “simple, ordinary wind storm.” Weather records indicate the winds were in the range of 40 kilometres per hour.

Jaqueline Foster, a spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power, said a company vice-president was unavailable for an interview. She wrote in an email that the utility was analyzing the equipment that allowed the flickering to occur on the Island, adding that the company will “either fix it or replace it.”

Foster said the utility had cleared trees and widened right-of-ways around power lines over a 45-kilometre area around the systems that feed the Boularderie area, investing more than $1 million since 2017. She said the corporation would widen another five kilometres of right-of-ways in the area this year.

The utility has been referring to the Feb. 4 cold snap as record-breaking — when wind chill is taken into account.

However, an Environment Canada forecaster said Friday there have been three early February days since 1980 with recorded temperatures as cold or colder than -25 C in Cape Breton. On Feb. 6, 1980, the low was -25 C; on Feb. 7, 1993, the low was -30.5 C; and on Feb. 5, 1994, the low was -25 C.


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