Flaky power costs business big bucks

There have been 16 power outages in the Whitehorse area since January 1st. And it's cost Gordon Clark more than $15,000. "The latest one, on Sunday, blew up my thermostats," said the owner of Boston Pizza.

There have been 16 power outages in the Whitehorse area since January 1st.

And it’s cost Gordon Clark more than $15,000.

“The latest one, on Sunday, blew up my thermostats,” said the owner of Boston Pizza.

Clark couldn’t control the temperature in the restaurant and his beer cooler was zapped out of commission.

He’s ripping out the fried thermostats and putting in manual ones that will, hopefully, survive the surges.

That fix alone was $978.

The previous outage blew out his lighting control panel—a $4,000 hit.

And earlier this year, an outage discombobulated a $2,000 circuit board for the restaurant’s induction cooker.

“I have spent $10,000 on parts alone,” said Clark.

“And another $5,000 on labour and repairs.”

Before taking over Boston Pizza, Clark ran Tim Hortons.

“I’ve been in the business here for 16 years,” he said.

“And I’ve never seen anything like this.

“It’s just insane—I can’t get through a week without some damage.”

Westmark Whitehorse general manager Heather McIntyre has been in the territory 26 years.

“And I don’t ever recall there being this many power surges and outages,” she said.

“It seems to be escalating.

“And the worst part is, (Yukon Energy and Yukon Electrical) don’t seem to know why.”

When power goes out, the Westmark gets dark.

“There’s no windows in our hallways,” said McIntyre.

And during an outage the emergency doors swing closed.

“With all those doors shut it makes it that much darker,” she said.

“It’s a big safety issue for us, with our customers and employees.”

In the winter, heating is another major factor.

“The big outage in January, a couple years ago, certainly was frightening,” said McIntyre. “It was winter and it lasted a very long time.”

The Westmark, and other parts of downtown, were spared the last outage on Sunday evening.

It was lucky, said McIntyre. “Because at that time we had 450 people seated for the Frantic Follies, and we would have had to evacuate them out of there.

“So it really does become a safety issue.”

The outages are having negative effects on tourism, she added.

“These visitors go away thinking, ‘Gosh, the electrical is quite unstable there.’

“It’s certainly not a good impression to have.”

A backup generator to run the hotel would have to be enormous, and would cost a fortune. Finding space for it would be a problem, said McIntyre.

“But we’ll have to look at a generator, if it continues to worsen.”

Nothing’s perfect, she added.

“There will always be times when things fail—it’s just that it seems to be more frequent and they haven’t gotten a handle on what’s happening.

“The most recent outage was caused by a rodent or something in the Raven’s Ridge area, but then the Mountainview substation failed and they don’t know why.

“It seems like we’re really susceptible to rodents.”

The power surges and brownouts are also taking a toll on equipment, said McIntyre.

“Every time you turn around, another computer isn’t working.”

To protect their computer system, Alpine Veterinary Medical Centre invested in a backup power supply.

“If we didn’t we’d have so many fried computers it’s not even funny,” said vet Kim Friedenberg on Thursday.

The backup supply switches on whenever the power fails or flicks out for a minute, saving equipment from the surges.

“I don’t even want to know how much it cost,” said Friedenberg.

Alpine’s power backup has switched on 13 times in the last four weeks, he said.

“We get lots of brownouts in this area.

“We know it’s just a fact of life.”

Luckily, animal surgery is performed in a room with a big window, and most of the equipment runs on air, said Friedenberg.

“So we are pretty self-sufficient.”

But the outages “are a little frustrating,” he said.

The Whitehorse hospital also has backup power.

“So critical care and patient care areas aren’t affected,” said hospital spokesperson Val Pike. “The biggest inconvenience is going around rebooting all the equipment.

“And when they’re frequent, it starts to cause extra wear and tear on the equipment.”

The Whitehorse airport also has backup power for essential services, like its runway lights and navigation systems, said airport manager John Rogers.

But all the security equipment stops working, said security manager Paranjit Grewal.

However, there’s never been a plane delayed by an outage, he said.

“We have a contingency plan.”

The security crew searches hand luggage and passengers manually.

“And we do random searches of the checked bags,” said Grewal. “It’s a lot more work.”

Unfortunately, not every business can afford a contingency plan.

In October, Coasters bar hired the Real McKenzies, a Scottish punk band from Vancouver.

It was a soldout show with a lineup down the block.

At midnight, just as the Real McKenzies took the stage, the power went out.

The band attempted an acoustic set using borrowed guitars, but in the packed bar, only the first few rows could hear the unamplified musicians.

Angry customers demanded their money back.

By the time the power came back on, the crowd of 300 had dwindled to 20.

“We lost thousands,” said Coasters entertainment manager Jonas Smith.

“And we’d flown the six-piece band here.”

The Real McKenzies was only able to play a 20-minute set before the bar closed for the night.

The outages also wreak havoc on all the debit machines, said Smith.

A customer comes to pay their bill—they don’t have cash and can’t get any because the ATMs are down, and the cash register can’t even tally the tab, he said.

Grocery stores are also hit hard.

“We have to shut down,” said Riverdale Super A manager Cliff Schultz.

And the gas bar shuts down too.

“We have to kick everyone out and lock the doors.”

And after each outage, the store has to hire refrigeration guys to come in and reset all its thermostats.

It’s costing the store.

“We’re losing quite a bit,” said Schultz.

“It’s pretty upsetting.”

But not everyone is losing money.

Erik’s Audiotronic has been selling plenty of surge protectors lately.

“Yukon Energy is helping us out there,” said general manager Kirk Burke.

“Lots of times, especially in Whitehorse, those things are worth their weight in gold.”

A good surge protector runs anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000.

And Erik’s is selling lots “because the residents know what kind of situation we’re faced with here,” said Burke.

The top three causes of outages are winter weather (frost and snow), interference like birds and animals, and loss of supply from Yukon Energy, said Yukon Electric’s operations superintendent Jay Massie.

Yukon Energy is only responsible for four major outages in 2009, said spokesperson Janet Patterson.

Major outages are blackouts that affect all, or a major portion of the WAF grid, in southern Yukon.

There have been more outages that “only affected a small number of rural customers,” she said, in an e-mail.

The other outages fall under Yukon Electrical Company Ltd.‘s jurisdiction.

Equipment issues are responsible for “the higher than normal outages in 2008 and early 2009,” wrote Patterson. And these “have all been addressed and we are continuing to work through a list of maintenance projects that should improve reliability even more.”

Although there have been a significant number of outages since the Minto mine was hooked up to the grid in mid-November, the two are unrelated, added Patterson.

“In spite of what some of your readers might think, the Minto mine was not the cause of any outages,” she wrote in the e-mail.

“Also, Yukon Energy sympathizes with the business community; we understand that outages can mean lost revenues for small businesses.”

Yukon Energy can’t admit any culpability, said Clark.

“Because if it did, it’d have a lineup of people outside with big bills.”

Clark has been in talks with a lawyer.

“I can’t take it on alone,” he said.

“But a bunch of high-profile businesses could get together and take on Yukon Energy.”

“This has been the worst season ever,” he said.

“And I don’t believe in coincidences.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Submitted
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read