Outages ‘unavoidable,’ say utility officials

This week’s power outages wreaked havoc on Yukon businesses, but the failures were unavoidable, say energy officials.

This week’s power outages wreaked havoc on Yukon businesses, but the failures were unavoidable, say energy officials.

Tuesday morning’s outage affected 5,000 homes and businesses in the Whitehorse area.

It was caused by a cracked insulator on Quartz Road near Wal-Mart.

Sunday night’s blackout is being blamed on somebody shooting the high-voltage transmission lines with a rifle.

Power was restored faster on Tuesday because the problem happened in a more accessible area, said Yukon Electrical officials.

 “The fact that [Tuesday’s outage] occurred right after Sunday’s blackout is just bad timing,” said Jay Massie, Yukon Electrical’s superintendent of operations.

“It’s very rare that these things happen… it’s like blowing a tire. It’s impossible to avoid, there were no indications beforehand.”

There have been several outages this week, but they’re rare.

There hasn’t been a major outage for quite some time, said Massie.

Over the past few years, the utility has taken measures to safeguard the power supply by burying cable in downtown Whitehorse and installing an underground substation, he said.

Though the power was cut for less than an hour on Tuesday, the cost to city businesses is estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“I had to stand in the parking lot and turn away business,” said Dean Terry, owner of Tim Hortons at 2210 Second St.

His business loss is pegged at more than $1,500.

Power outages are a hazard that goes with living in any part of Canada, said Terry, who managed two Tim Hortons in Vancouver during the ‘90s.

“Power went out [in Vancouver] way more than up here,” he said.

The greatest damage caused by the outage was the surge caused by the returning electricity.

 It blew breakers at A&W, keeping power off for more than four hours.

The restaurant, packed with the lunch-hour crowd, had to shut down.

It lost at least $3,000, said manager Renee Thompson.

“This affects a lot of people and it costs people a lot of money … when it comes down to responsibility, (the utility companies) are always ‘passing the buck,’” said a frustrated Thompson.

At Home Hardware, the power surge burned out two tills and several fluorescent lights.

“There was quite a bang and a flash of light (in the electrical room), people were worried … we had to open a window to let out all the smoke” said Rod Snooks, the store’s manager.

No fires were caused by the failures, said fire department officials.

The Yukon Utilities Consumer Group remained satisfied with the current power service.

 “If it was a continual problem, then we could say that electrical providers weren’t doing their job… but I think they keep that end of the ball game pretty good,” said Roger Rondeau, president of the Whitehorse-based group.

“If anything, utilities are failing to properly educate the public on how to deal with power surges following an outage,” said Rondeau.

Yukon Energy’s website advises customers to “turn off all tools, appliances and electronic equipment and turn the thermostat down to minimum. Power can be restored more easily when there isn’t a heavy load on the electrical system.”

“I always avoid the power surge by switching off the breakers to my house until I can see that the power has come back,” said Rondeau.

Outages cost both customers and utilities money.

“It’s never a cost saving for a company to not undertake proper maintenance (on their lines); when their power is down, they’re not making any money,” said Bob McManus, a spokesperson with Alberta Energy.

“It’s safe to say that Tuesday’s outage cost us between $7,000 to $10,000”, said Massie.

Yukon Electrical currently performs a yearly pole-to-pole inspection of all its transmission lines.

“Every three years we send a guy up the pole to do a close-up equipment inspection,” said Massie.

This maintenance program is generally consistent with other electricity providers in BC, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.