customer relations blackout

When the lights went out, I was sitting in a dentist's chair. How 'bout you? For somewhere between an hour and 80 minutes on Wednesday, the entire southeast Yukon power grid was shut down. Banks and businesses across the territory shut down.

When the lights went out, I was sitting in a dentist’s chair.

How ‘bout you?

For somewhere between an hour and 80 minutes on Wednesday, the entire southeast Yukon power grid was shut down.

Banks and businesses across the territory shut down. About 4,000 Yukon government employees were rendered idle, left in the dark waiting for the power to come on.

Traffic was disrupted.

Restaurants were blacked out.

And electronics were damaged.

Bottom line, productivity fell to near zero, money was lost, plans sundered, stuff broke and time was wasted – indeed, on Thursday some people lost a portion of their day off because they had to catch up on work due Wednesday.

Why?

Well, here’s the chirpy explanation e-mailed straight from Yukon Energy spokesperson Janet Patterson.

Hello there. Here is some information about today’s power outage:

Power went out at just after 1 o’clock this afternoon (1:07 to be exact) and caused a loss of power on the entire Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro transmission grid, which included all of the Southern Yukon as far north as Pelly Crossing. Everyone’s power was back on by 2:30 this afternoon and some saw power returned earlier than that.

The cause is that Yukon Energy employees were doing some upgrading on the system and inadvertently tripped off the generation.

At the time of the outage, our Whitehorse hydro units 2, 3 and 4 were running along with one Aishihik unit. No diesel was needed to restore the power and everything is running normally now. Please let me know if you have further questions.

The translation is that, though everything was copacetic, a team of Yukon Energy employees screwed up, plunging the territory into darkness with all the resulting problems and costs.

And, you should be happy to know, the utility did not have to burn diesel to restore the lights, which would have cost it a pile of cash.

We phoned Patterson four times for more information starting on Wednesday afternoon. We did not get a response until around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, after another employee rounded her up. (See story on page 4.)

It’s interesting to note the utility is never held responsible for costs incurred through these mistakes.

While outages have become somewhat rarer of late, the territory’s ratepayers are still raw from years of spotty power. It’s a bit like an old wound, once it is hit again it’s as if the months of healing never happened.

But it’s not just Crown-owned Yukon Energy’s fault.

For decades, the private Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. was responsible for maintaining the territory’s power grid. It profited mightily from the contract, and pumped relatively little back into the system. As a result, the territory’s power grid is, well, threadbare.

That’s what happens when you funnel public money into a private firm and fail to provide the proper administrative oversight.

And, of course, the utility has done a terrible job preparing for new power sources over the last two decades.

Bottom line, the system is a mess. And we’ll be struggling with it for years to come.

So folks have a right to be a tad miffed when the power shuts down. In the middle of the summer. In the middle of a workday. For no good reason.

But complacency on this issue is one of the reasons it’s a mess. The public, mollified by subsidized power rates, hasn’t cared much about the territory’s power supply, or worked to cut their consumption.

Now, here we are. Fuming in the dark.

If you’re one of those folks – business owner, tourism operator, worker or housewife – give the utility a call at 393-5333.

Call your MLA.

And call Dennis Fentie, minister responsible for the YEC. You can get him at 393-7053.

Let them know how you feel.

Demand compensation.

Demand action.

Demand better. (Richard Mostyn)

Postscript:

Actually, the same principle holds for Northwestel, which failed to provide internet service for several days in the last two weeks.

The telco should compensate all its internet customers for the outage.

It has an obligation to provide service. When it can’t, then customers should be reimbursed for the time service was disrupted.

Then it can go after the source of the problem, in court if it has to.

Now, Northwestel is going to claim it had no control over the outage, so it has no obligation to provide such compensation.

That’s a convenient excuse, but is it accurate?

So far, the focus has been on Alberta-based firm Richardson Bros., which cut the line twice last week.

Richardson Bros. said it called to pin down the location of buried lines.

Then another line in the same region was cut by a second firm.

So we have two firms with experience in northern Alberta - a region crisscrossed by buried gas lines and related infrastructure – cutting Northwestel’s fibre buried by the side of the road three times in a little more than a week.

A firm cuts a cable once, that’s its problem.

If it cuts it twice, then you gotta think it is either really messed up, or there’s a problem with the stated location of the line.

When a third company cuts the same line maybe the problem isn’t with shoddy road crews. Maybe the telco doesn’t have accurate information about the location of its own lines.

No doubt, this will be sorted out by lawyers.

But, in the meantime, Northwestel should do the right thing and refund its customers for three days of service interruptions.