Hello, power watch, our old … well, maybe not our old friend. On Feb. 13, as residents were preparing for Tuesday’s storm, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro issued a power watch for Avalon Peninsula customers. It’s the first level of warnings, one asking customers to conserve energy if possible, and to be aware that the system was facing challenges.
It’s part of a notification system that the utility put in place after Dark NL.
The notice came after the utility’s relatively new $120-million combustion turbine tripped out on Feb. 13, a sudden dip in power supply that caused the utility to turn off power for some customers in what the utility described as “under-frequency load shedding.”
Here’s how Hydro describes that circumstance: “If there is a sudden loss of generation due to a trip or issue on the electricity system, Hydro automatically drops predetermined blocks of customers to quickly balance the system. … (It) is a mechanism designed to protect the system from further damage or a widespread outage. On average, under-frequency events occur 5-8 times per year on the island part of the province and power outages are usually less than 30 minutes.”
The 125-megawatt turbine shut down at 9:21 a.m., and, late in the afternoon, Hydro said the turbine was still offline and would remain that way while the cause was investigated.
It is not the first time in recent memory the turbine has gone offline. While Hydro didn’t have to put the province on power watch, during the significant snowstorm on Feb. 6, the turbine also tripped out, and was unavailable from 1:10 in the afternoon to 5:25 p.m.
Hydro’s power supply and demand records, filed with the province’s Public Utilities Board, also indicate the turbine was unavailable for use from 5:55 on Saturday, Feb. 11 until 9:03 on Feb. 12. Hydro, in a posting on their website, indicated the turbine was taken offline for “a necessary repair.” It was also offline on Jan. 31, when it was “removed from service today to complete planned maintenance work.” It was offline from 7:49 a.m. to 2:44 p.m., a shutdown of close to six hours (and one that did not affect customers).
All this, after the utility received permission last September for $4.7 million in unexpected combustion turbine inspections, after the same turbine ran far more in 2015 and 2016 than the utility expected it would.
Right now, all Hydro has said about the problems is that it is examining the latest trip. One good thing? We have far more information about what’s going on than we have had in past years. But the information, at least at this point, is lacking closure.
We know there are problems. When the work is done, it would be nice to know just exactly what the problems were.