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Cape Bretoners express frustrations after lengthy post-snowstorm power outage

A section of broken power line (between the two arrows) in the Sydney Forks area. CONTRIBUTED.
A section of broken power line (between the two arrows) in the Sydney Forks area. CONTRIBUTED.
SYDNEY, N.S. —

Cape Bretoners are expressing frustration after the latest lengthy power outage that followed last weekend's snowstorm.

Many lost power on Jan. 2 after a snowstorm dropped upwards of 30 centimetres on the island, and some areas went without power for over 48 hours. Some say the outages appear to be getting worse and increasing in severity.

“This is definitely (the longest outage). I’ve been here over 20 years and this was the longest,” said Stephen Collins of Sydney Forks, who lost power at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday evening and didn’t regain it until 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Collins’ street was put on the Nova Scotia Power outage map after a neighbour phoned following the outage.

“Sunday passed, and then Monday or Sunday evening I noticed we were no longer on the outage map. The bottom half of the street had no power,” Collins said.

He phoned NSP at 11:30 a.m. Monday and was advised that power had been restored. He told them it hadn’t been restored and said two power lines were at that point still in a ditch.

“She said she would … look after it, and then we were put back on the outage map.”

NSP said power would be restored at 11 p.m. Monday. Collins said he has elderly neighbours in their 90s down the street without a generator that he was concerned about.

After posting on Facebook about the situation Monday evening, NSP called him directly and asked if their power had come back on.

“I said, ‘Not yet, nobody’s been down, there hasn’t been a truck down.’ And finally, perhaps 12 a.m. or so, they showed up and got to it.

“My thinking is, had they come to the actual addresses that called for the outage, they would have known that we were still out,” Collins said. “They assumed, I think, that because part of the street had power, that the whole street had power.”

"This is definitely (the longest outage). I’ve been here over 20 years and this was the longest." — Stephen Collins of Sydney Forks

The Cape Breton Post reached out to NSP for comment.

“There were two outages in that area — a larger outage and a smaller/localized outage within the same area. The outage map was likely showing one large outage in the area, while the customer was actually affected by both,” a spokesperson for the power utility said.

“Once power to the larger outage was restored, it would have come off our outage map and customers who had previously called to report an outage would be called back asking them to confirm their power had been restored.”

When a customer called to say their power was still off, Nova Scotia Power “then would have realized there was a smaller localized outage ‘nested’ in the larger outage that needed to be restored.” This new outage would then have been added to the map while crews were sent to assess and restore it.

“This type of situation will improve once smart meter upgrades are in place and the technology starts being used.”

NSP said upgrades to modernize Nova Scotia’s electricity grid by installing smart meters began in October 2019.

“Along with allowing customers to better manage their electricity costs, smart meters will also improve response times in the event of an outage. They will provide us with real time information and eliminate the need for onsite visits for connections and disconnections.”

Kate Sheehan of Howie Centre lost power at 4 a.m. on Sunday and with the loss of power comes the loss of water.

“It happens quite often, the power is really unreliable," she said, adding she’s lost power at least five or six times since moving to Cape Breton from Alberta about two and a half years ago.

“I just don’t understand why (the power outage) affected us for so long in our subdivision. I think they’re getting worse, because we did lose (power) a significant amount last year,” she said.

Brigette Martin of Brookland Street in Sydney said wires that had fallen down during Saturday night’s storm and were blocking her driveway.

“I don’t think they were actually power lines. They might have been phone lines or cable or something. When I called Nova Scotia Power they came and fixed the lines that were going across the road, but just left mine in my driveway.

“Nobody really knew who owned them or what was going to happen.”

Martin said they were laying in her driveway until Tuesday and were finally fixed by a couple of Bell employees who were already in the area.

“We take our reliability commitment to customers very seriously. Our customers expect and deserve, reliable, affordable energy,” said NSP.

NSP noted that bad weather in Nova Scotia is increasing in frequency and severity and that it was heavy, wet snow early Sunday morning that impacted trees across the island. They said there’s also a significant increase in wind gusts exceeding 80 km/hr each year — “over 150 hours in 2019 compared to just over 20 hours in 2009.”

According to the utility, NSP has invested approximately $100 million each year on system upgrades for service reliability across Nova Scotia, including over $20 million on vegetation management, which includes trimming trees and removing them from near power lines.

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