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Updated: Sun, 05 Jan 2014 19:53:23 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Newfoundland power outages 'not a crisis,' says premier



Residents in St. John's trying to dig out their cars during blizzard-like conditions on Saturday. CBC

Residents in St. John's trying to dig out their cars during blizzard-like conditions on Saturday. CBC

Newfoundland Power is no longer saying service will be restored to all homes by Tuesday, as outages and rolling blackouts continued through Sunday for tens and thousands of Newfoundlanders.

"Everything is changing fairly quickly, so there is no real word on when everything will be back," said CBC reporter Peter Cowan in St. John's.

Roughly 25,000 customers were without power Sunday morning, but that number climbed back up to 35,000 in the afternoon as increased demand strained the system. There were 190,000 without power when the blackout started on Saturday morning. Yesterday, a Newfoundland Power official indicated the lights would be back on by Monday or Tuesday.

The provincial utility is trying to bring power back for some by unplugging other areas on the system, according to Cowan.

"So they are trying to balance all of that right now. So even people who get power back, it is not that reliable," he said.

A fire at the Sunnyside substation at around 9 a.m. NT on Saturday caused an outage at the Holyrood Generating Station, throwing much of the island into darkness.

The fire began hours after a blizzard hit the region, dumping up to 40 centimetres of snow.

Meanwhile, Cowan added, Newfoundlanders are urged to conserve power, such as by not running clothes driers or dishwashers. They are also warned that the conservation effort could continue for weeks as the system stabilizes.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale said the situation today is not considered a crisis.

"When you have infrastructure that's 40 years old, you're going to have challenges," Dunderdale said.

"Combine those challenges with difficult weather conditions that we've certainly had in the last few days, high demand, very high demand, higher than we've seen in the last five years, then events like this are going to occur," she said. "There is a solution coming."

Amid criticism on social media that she hadn't spoken about the situation earlier, Dunderdale said the situation wasn't serious until Saturday.

"There's no reason to lose confidence in the power system. We have two great utilities in this province who understand the generation and supply of power to customers," she said.

Schools staying closed, awaiting power restoration time

Government announced on Sunday afternoon that all K-12 schools, Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic campuses on the island portion of the province would stay closed on Monday and Tuesday.

A news release on Sunday said the closure is designed to conserve power as NL Hydro and Newfoundland Power work to stabilize power services.

Public schools and post-secondary institutions in Labrador will not be affected.

Nalcor President Ed Martin said all resources are focused on repairing problems at the Holyrood plant to get people back on the grid.

He said of the three generating units at the site, one is fully operational, a second is partially running while awaiting a part replacement, but there have been problems with the third unit since Saturday night.

Martin said he will have more information later Sunday afternoon about possible restoration times.

Mayor advising schools stay closed

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe said his office is currently drafting a letter to the English School District of Newfoundland and Labrador, recommending it keeps schools closed until at least Wednesday.

"We still have people without electricity, there's impending weather in terms of rain and freezing temperatures on Monday and Tuesday," he said.

"It gives also, aside from the energy aspect, it gives us, as a city, time to get out there and deal with the streets and deal as much as we can within the next few days with sidewalks and everything else."

According to O'Keefe, it would be best for the city and the school board alike if that extra time was given to allow the city to work on clearing sidewalks near the school, which he said wouldn't be completed until Wednesday at the earliest.

O'Keefe said parents and buses trying to get children to and from school could also pose possible dangers in less-than-ideal driving and walking conditions.

There are 65 homes in the St. John's neighbourhood of Kilbride without water Sunday afternoon.

A power outage at the upper pumping station in Kilbride caused the water loss. ​A generator is on the way to the site, but it isn't known whether the generator can be installed at the station.

Mayor O'Keefe said water will be sent to the homes if it can't be done, while further repairs are done to the site.

Eastern Health coping

Most Eastern Health facilities will be operating normally by Monday, at least in the St. John's area.

Vickie Kaminski, the CEO of Eastern Health, said power outages are impacting health centres in Burin.

She said the health authority will have to be certain the power is back for good before it decides to reopen the centre.

The facilities in Carbonear have also been dealing with some issues after leaking forced the closure of one of the operating rooms.

"One of our operating rooms there — we only have two in Carbonear — one of them was damaged, so it's a question of whether or not we can get that back in shape by Monday or if it's going to be later in the week," Kaminski said.

Rolling blackouts continue

Michelle Coughlan, with Newfoundland Power, said earlier on Sunday that the majority of customers still without power are located on the eastern portion of the island.

​"Our crews have been working hard, they're out and about, ready to reconnect those customers as soon as the generation becomes available," Coughlan said.

She said 60-minute rolling blackouts resumed on Sunday to conserve power to help restore services to more customers.

"Our focus this morning is starting to rotate that power — that's for two reasons, of course. One is the limitations on the generation that we've been able to receive from Newfoundland and Labardor Hydro, and it's also focused on getting some of the power restored to our customers who have been without power since yesterday morning," Coughlan said.

The rotations stopped shortly before 9 p.m. N.T. and will remain so as long as the system is stable, Newfoundland Power tweeted.

Many businesses in the St. John's region have opened, or are scheduled to open, on Sunday. But Coughlin said Newfoundland Power is advising companies to conserve as much energy as possible while the company works to restore power to other customers.

She said if residents notice their neighbours have power but their home is still without, it is likely an isolated incident that the company needs to look into and to contact them at 1-800-474-5711.

Newfoundland Power is bringing in workers from Prince Edward Island on Monday to help assist with restorations.

Metrobus Transit operations in St. John's are running normally Sunday morning, and flights at St. John's International Airport are also back to normal after yesterday's service interruptions.

Marine Atlantic crossings between Port aux Basques and North Sydney, N.S. are pacing possible delays, but otherwise operating normally. The company is advising customers to continue to check for updates.

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