Energy minister Ken Hughes seeks explanation for blackout

Opposition calls for full investigation

By Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald July 10, 2012 8:07 AM

Energy Minister Ken Hughes said he will demand an explanation for the rolling blackouts that hit across Alberta on Monday, while the province’s official Opposition called for a full investigation.Hughes said the sporadic power outages crossing the province were caused by a combination of three factors: massive amounts of power required to keep air conditioners roaring on a hot day, no wind to power wind turbines, and unexpected failures at four power plants Monday afternoon.

Alberta’s energy minister said he doesn’t know why the four plants all went down on the same day, but he will get to the bottom of it.

“Oh, I’ll be getting an explanation. I just don’t have it in hand right now,” Hughes said in an interview Monday afternoon.

The blackouts hit homes and businesses unexpectedly on Monday, although the mercury has been rising across the province for several days, increasing power consumption.

Officials don’t get much notification when a problem is on the horizon, Hughes said.

“If you look at the experience in most other jurisdictions, you generally don’t get warnings of when something like this is going to happen,” he said.

“Everybody recognizes that sometimes we will experience events like this – but very rarely. Less often in Alberta than other jurisdictions like California or Central Canada.”

But Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin said the odds of four plants all going down on the same day are so low, “I could almost play the lottery on that one.”

“We need an investigation. It should be automatic,” said Anglin, who has long acted as a spokesman for landowners opposed to the major power-line projects.

For his part, Hughes said he has seen no evidence there was any manipulation of the market and everyone with a stake in Alberta’s electrical system understands that “would be treated very severely.”

NDP MLA Rachel Notley said the bigger picture is Alberta’s deregulation of power generation more than a decade ago has led to a lack of control over the system.

“We have a much lower level of oversight and control over our power generation system as a result of deregulation,” Notley said.

Liberal energy critic Kent Hehr said he would cut the government a bit of slack due to the hot summer weather. But he said Alberta has less excess power capacity than other provinces, and that hurts the system’s ability to deliver reliable and affordable power.

Anglin has also been a major opponent to the processes for approving major north-south transmission lines, arguing the multi-billion-dollar projects are an unnecessary overbuild.

But Hughes said Monday’s rolling blackouts speak to the need for a robust system to move power, “and as much as possible, a redundant transmission system so that you have access to multiple sources of generation.”

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