Power outage zaps businesses

Luigi Zanasi was standing in line at Home Hardware when the power cut out Wednesday. He was about to buy a $100 roasting pan when the cash registers died.

Luigi Zanasi was standing in line at Home Hardware when the power cut out Wednesday.

He was about to buy a $100 roasting pan when the cash registers died.

Zanasi probably won’t be heading back to the hardware store for the roasting pan since it was an impulse buy, he said.

In the end, the company lost his business.

That scene was played out in stores throughout southern Yukon yesterday.

“We had to push customers out the door,” said Porter Creek Super A manager Mike Sheppard.

He figures the grocery story lost “thousands” because of the nearly 90-minute power outage that happened shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday.

It’s not just the lost business, its the fried computer systems the company will have to deal with, said Sheppard.

“Some of the computers failed, and there’s the store’s camera system,” he said.

The company has already replaced its surveillance system three or four times because of past power failures.

Sheppard would like to see Yukon Energy compensate businesses who were affected by the outage, especially since it was the energy company’s fault, he said.

Much of the territory was brought to a standstill Wednesday when two Yukon Energy employees accidentally shut down the entire Whitehorse-Aishik-Faro grid. Power was out all the way to Pelly Crossing.

“Yukon Energy employees were doing some upgrading on the system and inadvertently tripped off the generation,” said energy spokesperson Janet Patterson in a release.

The two employees were working at the Whitehorse power station when it happened.

Patterson couldn’t pin down the exact cause of the outage.

“I don’t know if it was because of a button pushed or a wire crossed; I don’t know those details,” she said.

“This isn’t something that happens very often.”

But it happens enough that it affects the Yukon’s economy, said Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce president Rick Karp.

People don’t carry a lot of money with them and they’re reliant on debit and credit card machines.

“It’s a huge inconvenience,” he said.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, I’ll go and get some money’ and then they don’t come back.”

There’s also all the lost staff hours.

During an outage, staff are just standing around with nothing to do, he said. Is that considered a break?

For Zanasi the lost productivity is the most concerning.

“If you work for the government and you get a power failure you’re just sitting around twiddling your thumbs,” said the Yukon economist.

Zanasi may not have bought his roasting pan at Home Hardware, but he’ll end up spending that $100 elsewhere, he said.

It’s the lost staff time that you can’t get back.

If about 10,000 people lost an hour’s production at an average wage of $30 that’s about $300,000 in lost productivity, he figures.

Of a $1.5 billion GDP it’s not an overwhelming number.

But it still has an effect, he said.

There’s also the cost to repair equipment and to safeguard a business from future power outages by installing generators and surge protectors, he said.

The Real Canadian Superstore may have scooped their competitors’ business Wednesday. The grocery store stayed open during the power outage thanks to its generator.

Boston Pizza has learned its lesson.

The restaurant installed manual thermostats after last year’s power outages fried its electronic thermostats, which cost nearly $1,000 apiece.

Past power outages have cost the business a lot of money. It had to spend $4,000 for a new lighting control panel and $2,000 for a circuit control board for an induction cooker in the last few years.

The restaurant fared better with this week’s power outage.

“We had a few computer problems, but we didn’t blow anything,” said manager Diane Duncan.

The computer systems do get weakened by the outage, she said. “Usually they get blown a couple of days later.”

But the restaurant did have to deal with 75 customers who were finishing up their lunches when the power cut out.

Some of the customers never got their orders.

Does Yukon Energy have a responsibility to compensate businesses who lose customers and staff time?

Not likely.

The company isn’t liable for any losses caused by a power outage that wasn’t purposely triggered, said Patterson.

“My reading of the regulations is that there isn’t any liability on our part,” she said.

But Yukon Energy’s insurance could pick up that tab, said Utilities’ Consumer Group president Roger Rondeau.

At the very least they could give a better explanation of how the power went out, he said.

“They should tell us more than it happened ‘inadvertently’,” he said.

“It doesn’t tell us very much.”

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com