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Nova Scotia Power outages generate outrage... and questions about the wisdom of privatization

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Photo: Michael Steeleworthy/flickr

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I woke up one recent morning and flipped on the radio. "Nova Scotia Power is reporting its first outage of the morning," the newscaster began. It was not a storm day. Or the day after. Or even the day after that. We were in the middle of a brief winter storm interregnum. Skies were clear.

Another day, another news report. On Feb. 3, the Digby Courier reported 5,800 customers in Clare and Weymouth without power -- "just like yesterday." The cause of the first outage: "damage to overhead equipment." The cause of the second: "equipment failure." Unrelated to the first, according to a Nova Scotia Power spokesperson.

What is going on?

A website called "Power Protection," which promotes uninterruptible power supplies, notes archly that while snowstorms and lightning strikes "normally cause power outages," Nova Scotia Power "has had some unusual causes to add to the list." Crows, seagulls, squirrels... "The utility even blamed salt in heavy fog for brief, widespread outages in the Halifax area in 2006."

Something is going on.

In July 2014, tens of thousands of Nova Scotia Power customers lost power for a week, thanks to post-tropical storm Arthur (note Art wasn't even a hurricane by the time it hit us).

Public outrage led to public apology, led to official report, led to... well, nowhere.

The report said the company needed better forecasting services so it would know what was about to happen before it did (good plan), an updated website (ditto) and an actual communications plan (ya think?) to communicate to customers so they'd know when to expect their lights to come back on.

But the consultants the company hired said the utility's response was "within industry norms."


It is well past time the McNeil government and/or the Utility and Review Board ordered a comprehensive, independent audit of Nova Scotia Power's performance going back to before it was turned back over to the private sector in 1993.

Has Nova Scotia Power's role as cash cow for parent Emera led to reductions in maintenance and emergency personnel, and/or a failure to update and maintain the power grid?

We need to ask questions -- and demand answers -- or we'll keep hearing yet another story about today's first outage.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Michael Steeleworthy/flickr

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