Rules set for blackout protocol

Wednesday, 11 July 2012 02:01 May, Katie

Katie May
[email protected]
The City of Lethbridge followed protocol when it activated rotating blackouts across the city during a province-wide heat wave power shortage Monday afternoon. Power was out for a total of three hours in various areas of the city, mainly in westside residential neighbourhoods, with each outage lasting about 30 minutes.
Randy Doyle, the City of Lethbridge’s Electric Operations Distribution Manager, said city employees were following the rules when they chose to cut power first to westside residential neighbourhoods in favour of keeping the lights on at southside big-box stores and industrial properties.
“We go to the book and start following the plan as far as we’ve set it out in advance, and hopefully that works as effectively as it can be,” he said.
Shutting down electricity in more traffic-heavy areas of the city would’ve caused more chaos, Doyle said.
“We can’t be overly selective so if we kill the power to that whole section, we kill all the traffic lights as well, so traffic is severely impacted, the police are severely impacted. It just cascades down,” he said.
Still, the city does everything in its power to keep electricity up and running for big businesses and large-scale community events, Doyle said.
“Unless it was a province-wide catastrophic crash or a weather emergency that would, say, disable the whole of Lethbridge, we would never voluntarily shut down an event like that. We would look for other options in the residential neighbourhoods.”
On Monday, the province asked larger cities, including Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge, to reduce their electricity usage after six different power plants went down, putting pressure on the provincial grid.
The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) – the body that oversees the provincial grid – reported four coal power generation plants and two gas plants went down Monday, causing the high demand on electricity. But a spokesperson for the AESO wouldn’t say what caused six generators to shut down in one day, only that the outages were “all forced, all unplanned and all unpredictable, unforeseeable.”
“We’re susceptible to these unit trips and they don’t give us any warning when a unit trips off. It goes off in very short order and it can be at full output one minute and completely offline the next, and we have to deal with that. That’s what happened yesterday. There was very little time to give any notice to anyone,” said Doug Simpson, director of market operations for AESO.
The agency is working on an internal review of what went wrong, but Simpson said it’s unlikely the outcome of the review will be made public. Meanwhile, the AESO is still urging Albertans to curtail unnecessary electricity use, saying another blackout is possible.
“It’s always a risk. We have high temperatures continuing this week that will increase the demand that Alberta will experience and if we end up with these unpredictable forced outages again, we could be in the same situation. That said, it doesn’t happen very often,” Simpson said.
“It’s very unusual that that many units would be forced offline in the same day.”
The demand for electricity in Alberta reached a record-breaking peak of 9,885 megawatts at 2 p.m. Monday, up from last July’s record high of 9,552 megawatts, according to AESO.
The last time Alberta saw forced power outages was in 2006, when lightning strikes tripped out some generators and the provincial grid couldn’t handle the demand.
The power outages have added fuel to the fire of provincial politics, with one NDP MLA questioning Alberta’s deregulated electricity system.
In a news release issued Tuesday, Edmonton-Calder MLA David Eggen called for an investigation into the forced outages and for a return to a regulated system.
“We must have a report on why those four plants were down yesterday, or on whether there was any illegal manipulation of the system to jack up prices, or on why power companies can build a plant anywhere and we just have to build transmission to work with those plants,” he said in the news release. “But we don’t need a report on whether this deregulation nightmare is working for Albertans, either in terms of reliability or in terms of affordability.”