A month after a derecho storm wreaked unprecedented havoc on Ottawa’s electrical grid, plunging thousands of residents into days of darkness, Hydro Ottawa’s leadership came to City Council on Wednesday with answers to questions they likely heard from many aggravated residents in the wake of the crash. the weather disaster.
Why did it take so long to restore power?
It came down to the extent of the damage, Jim Durrell, chairman of Hydro Ottawa, explained in a presentation accompanying the utility’s annual report. Even the impact of the 2018 tornadoes and ice storm of 1998 “pales” in comparison to the devastation of the May 21 storm and likely winds of 90 miles per hour, which knocked down 400 hydroelectric power stations locally — about the total number the city has hit. owned company would be established within a year.
Durrell used an analogy from the municipal snow removal process to explain why some residents had to wait more than a week to get their power back. Like the city’s plow crews, which are deployed first on major roads and transportation routes before making their way to secondary and then residential roads, Durrell said Hydro Ottawa prioritized critical infrastructures such as hospitals and water treatment plants, then focused on the restore power where it would benefit the greatest number of customers, leaving until the end solutions that would, for example, light only 10 to 15 homes, compared to others that would restore power to hundreds.
Was it a matter of insufficient resources available to Hydro?
No, concluded Durrell, pointing out that for the fifth consecutive year, Hydro Ottawa was the leader among its peers when it came to how often there were local outages in the past year and how long they lasted. Durrell said it wouldn’t have made a difference to deploy more people than the 600 who worked to respond to last month’s storm. Crews faced complex challenges, such as damaged posts in backyards requiring difficult and lengthy repair work.
He also dismissed concerns about the use of wooden hydropiles. Hydro Ottawa is using fiberglass composite poles in places, and a number of these also crashed during the storm, he said.
“Wooden posts are not the problem; a storm of that magnitude will always be a problem.”
As for the suggestion that the process of restoring power to some may have been influenced by income, race, gender or the like, Durrell said he was offended by this way of asking questions. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Hydro Ottawa will prepare a report on the lessons learned from the storm and the highlights will be shared with councilors. This includes how the utility communicated with customers in the aftermath — an issue a number of councilors raised Wednesday, in addition to high praise and gratitude for Hydro’s storm response efforts.
Innes district count. Laura Dudas challenged the utility’s leadership to come up with innovative ways to communicate with residents during extended power outages, when they may not have internet access. While last month’s weather event was a unique situation, she acknowledged, it caused councilors and city departments to try to fill information gaps for customers.
Hydro Ottawa’s president and CEO, Bryce Conrad, said the company has removed the outage map, which provides estimated recovery times, to avoid misleading and further inconvenience to customers. It works well most of the time, but struggled under the sheer magnitude of the storm’s impact, he said, and recovered just over a week after the storm hit.
There is room for improvement at Hydro on communications, Durrell acknowledged, but he pushed back on a claim made by River Ward Coun. Riley Brockington that it is a problem that predates the storm.
“If I’ve ever had feedback from council members, it’s basically been that you were all very satisfied with the level of communication you received under normal circumstances,” he said. “All the cards were off the table in this one, we agree we can do better and we will strive to make it the best we can.”
The storm also reaffirmed the importance of strengthening infrastructure against the effects of climate change, which Conrad says has been a priority since the 2018 tornadoes.
“The trauma of this (storm) event… our company still carries it, so it will be central to our planning for the future.”
But councilors don’t just take Hydro at his word. They passed a motion from Rideau-Rockcliffe Ward Coun. Rawlson King to have the mayor write to the utility’s CEO requesting an action plan for better outage communications, more efficient crisis response, faster distribution grid modernization, and a timeline for capital investment in grid resilience, which will begin with the would be shared publicly.
As for the storm’s cost, Durrell said Hydro’s current estimates put it at $25 million to $30 million.
After paying a record $23.7 million dividend to the board for 2021, Conrad said they have committed to a dividend of at least $20 million by 2022, and the board should plan to receive no more than that baseline. for lack of financial support to Hydro from the province.
Prime Minister Doug Ford has committed to covering the storm costs, however, Durrell said. He also said that every day after the storm, Ford called Hydro Ottawa’s CEO. Ford came under fire during the election campaign for not visiting the city in the wake of the storm. He made his first appearance in Ottawa on May 30.
“In that two-week period, I spoke more often with the Prime Minister than with my wife,” Conrad said.
Another concern for some councilors on Wednesday was the absence of backup generators in some major residential buildings in the city, leaving elevators out of order and, in some cases, residents’ water supplies during the May power outages.
That someone can operate a large apartment without an emergency power supply is something Conrad said he was stunned.
“I find that shocking. I find that almost … borderline criminal.”
The Council unanimously passed a motion filed by Knoxdale-Merivale Ward Coun. Keith Egli, to help staff determine what regulatory changes are needed to ensure more consistent use of backup generators in multi-unit residential buildings with elevators and at gas stations.