Victoria Playhouse Petrolia was just one of the many businesses which had major problems during the last major outage Sept. 5. A woman was trapped in an elevator and the theatre patrons had to leave in the dark when the power went out.
Politicians call for replacement of main substation in the area now
Politicians say it’s time Hydro One fix the Wanstead substation. And they have a powerful ally in their fight – Bluewater Power CEO Janice McMichael-Dennis.
Hydro One’s main power source in Central Lambton has been a source of constant frustration for Oil Springs Mayor Ian Veen. Since he became mayor four years ago, Veen says he’s been trying to find out why the power is constantly going out in his community.
The answer always winds its way back to the Wanstead substation. In the last three years Bluewater Power officials say there have been 100 outages linked to the aging substation.
The issue came to the forefront after a major storm Sept. 5. Residents across most of Petrolia and Central Lambton were without power between three and six hours at a time when four inches of rain fell.
In Oil Springs, disaster restoration company vehicles have become a common sight. Veen first thought about 20 homes sustained damage because of the rain during the power outage. Now he estimates it could be as high as 50 houses in the community of about 700 have been affected.
It’s prompted the municipality to organize an information meeting about how to prepare a home for power outages during severe weather.
The problem isn’t isolated to Oil Springs. At a recent meeting hosted by the Lambton Federation of Agriculture, the reliability of hydro was a key issue.
“We can’t leave our farms,” says Dave Ferguson who lives on Petrolia Line in Brooke-Alvinston. “It’s not uncommon for us to lose power in the middle of the afternoon.”
Ferguson and the LFA asked candidates for municipal council in Enniskillen and St. Clair to continue pushing Hydro One to get answers on what is causing the constant problems. “Is it one substation or is it a switch – they won’t tell us…Hydro has to …keep up to date with our lines.”
“The main concern and issue is the Wanstead substation,” says St. Clair Mayor Steve Arnold who was at the LFA meeting. “It’s due for a total replacement.”
Veen agrees. “They know the Wanstead feeder needs to be replaced,” he says. “It’s in such bad shape now that it doesn’t take much to shut it down.
“It needs to be replaced; they know it’s just a matter of when.” Veen says Hydro One should act soon. “I’m so frustrated with all this, I’ve been fighting it and fighting it…It (the power outages) is all related to infrastructure. They know they have a problem and they don’t want to fix it.”
Brooke-Alvinston Mayor Don McGugan heard so many complaints and rumours about the Sept. 6 storm, he approached Bluewater Power CEO Janice McMichael Dennis about the outage. McMichael-Dennis told him Hydro One powered down the substation “before there was a problem… thinking it would create less damage if it was shut down.”
McGugan adds that is allowable under the Ontario Energy Act and Hydro One would face no repercussions from the move.
Hydro One Spokesperson Tiziana Baccega says operators did not turn off the substation but says a lightning strike caused the initial problem.
“There are many instances where they can manage the load differently (to keep customers lights on),” says Baccega. But when lightning hits “key pieces of equipment or a line, it does cause an outage. Weather impacts old and new equipment.”
But McMichael-Dennis told The Independent the original problem was with another substation near Wanstead. Hydro One shutdown Wanstead putting most of Central Lambton in the dark to deal with the problem down the line. McMichael-Dennis says the shutdown was “absolutely” because Wanstead is an old substation. “If you had updated equipment you could be able to isolate problems.
“The station at Wanstead is absolutely without question in my opinion is past a life that is probably useful.”
McMichael-Dennis says Hydro One is committed to a complete replacement of the substation worth between $10 and $20 million but not until 2018.
“There are a few years in the meantime to make things as best as we can for our customers,” she says noting that Hydro One outages at Wanstead affect a large number of their customers. And that’s leaving her frustrated as well.
“Hydro ones response in the county has been unacceptable …There have been 100 outages in the last three years (from the Wanstead station)…that’s is unacceptable – there’s no need to sugar coat it; it is.”
Municipal leaders vow to keep pushing Hydro One for answers. St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold says it is “difficult and frustrating” to deal with Hydro One but they are making headway with the company. “If council puts pressure on them, they will listen.”
And McMichael-Dennis says Bluewater Power will also be watching. “When our customers are dependent on Hydro One, it is our job to be on Hydro One.”