The total number of hours lost to power outages in Nova Scotia this year is almost twice that of last year and Nova Scotia Power is pointing the finger at an increase in major and extreme weather events.
So far in 2018, there have been eight events given these two classifications. In 2016 and 2017, there were five in each year.
“It’s been a very active year for storms throughout the province,” said Matt Drover, Nova Scotia Power’s director of field operations. “We’ve had a number of wind and snow events and when we have events like that, it is more likely for the power to go out.”
The total number of hours customers were without power in 2018 topped 8.1 million as of the end of November, with 5.8 million of those hours coming from major and extreme weather events.
Last year, the total was just over 4.3 million hours, with almost 2.4 million hours stemming from major and extreme weather events.
Going back for the last five years, the only year when the number of hours of power outages caused by major and extreme weather events was higher than the 2018 numbers was in in 2014 when the remnants of Hurricane Arthur struck. The post-tropical storm left 144,000 Nova Scotians without power at its peak.
Drover said one of the ways the company works to prevent outages is by spending $20 million each year to cut and trim trees.
He said one of the challenges faced is there are many areas where the utility can’t cut trees because residents don’t want them removed from their properties.
“We’ll do more than just call them, we’ll talk to them over time, really try to explain to them what the impact is, but at the end of the day some people may prefer to have a tree than they would the impact from a power-system perspective,” said Drover.
Trees falling on power lines is the biggest cause of outages in the province each year.
Homeowner Judy Gillmore has taken notice of the increased number of outages and questions whether Nova Scotia Power is doing enough to prevent them.
“I just wonder if they’re really putting the money into the infrastructure because it seems like there’s an awful lot of them,” said the East LaHave resident.
Drover said Nova Scotia Power is spending $80 million a year on replacing poles, wires and transformers to ensure Nova Scotia has a hardy system.
Even without the increase in extreme weather, some of the outages in Nova Scotia have come from some unusual culprits.
In November, nearly half the customers in Nova Scotia were left in the dark, including much of Halifax, when there was no significant weather event on the mainland.
Drover said the caused was heavy, wet snow on transmission lines in Cape Breton, where most of the province’s power is generated, and it couldn’t be sent to customers in other parts of the province.
“We had backup upon backup upon backup go out,” said Drover. “It was an extremely rare event, something that would not happen in any year. In fact, as long as I’ve been at Nova Scotia Power, we’ve never had an event like this occur before.”
He said the system performed as it should by shutting down, which prevented equipment from being damaged.
Some outages have been blamed on salt contaminating electrical equipment. This contamination comes from Nova Scotia’s proximity to the sea, as well as the salt used on our roadways.
The frequent outages have been beneficial for some Nova Scotia businesses.
Derek Paton has worked at Home Hardware in Bridgewater for about 30 years. He said he’s noticed a spike in generator sales in the last year and a half.
“The instant there’s a hint of a storm coming, we get all kinds of calls here,” he said.
Mark Ryan is an arborist who has a business trimming trees. He said last year’s Christmas Day power outages that were caused by a windstorm helped change people’s perceptions. At its peak, there were about 158,000 customers affected by the storm.
“People are more aware of their trees now,” he said. “[At] one time, people didn’t really care about trees and tree work, but they see the damage that it can cause.”
In spite of that, Ryan said with more powerful and frequent storms, outages will be difficult to prevent.
“The world is changing, like our climate changing, everything is changing … and I think this is the way of the future,” he said.