To not term the recent situation involving our electrical generation and transmission system a crisis is to completely misunderstand the term, or, as is more likely the case, to resort to ad-hoc definitions (probably “shit hitting the fan and the entire province sinking into the Atlantic”—of course it isn’t. We lost the frigging power for a few days; that’s all) in an attempt to re-frame a complex issue that is at once, technical, economic and social as purely political.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it in various ways but as it applies to the current situation in NL the best fit is the one labeled 3a in the dictionary’s online version: “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.” In short; now is a crisis because we can either act as if we have no problem or, instead, learn some lessons from this and act accordingly.
Let’s lay it out in straightforward terms:
- Last year, through the sudden unexpected loss of generation capacity, it became obvious that Holyrood was, at best, fragile and that serious work needed to be done. A huge melt-down required an enormous capital investment to correct and, at the same time, we all had the opportunity to gain heightened awareness of the simple fact that the few aging generators were just gasping along. This should have been followed by a large-scale system review intended to determine whether the aging equipment had what it takes to last until Muskrat comes online. That never happened.
- A substation fire—not an unknown event—triggered catastrophic loss in power to the Island grid. Again not completely unexpected, especially given the weather conditions at the time. It should not have happened, of course, but an electrical system is as complex as it gets and sometimes things get out of control and all you can do is shut down and bring the system back up one piece at a time. As far as I know that’s what happened.
- All customers were asked to conserve and, in fairness to SOME, it did happen a bit. Overall, though, for most businesses and homeowners who did have power or get it back, it was business as usual. “Not My Problem” was the overwhelming response as businesses stayed open, dryers, ovens and heating systems stayed on as if nothing was wrong. Hydro and NL-Power, faced with more load than it could supply had to begin rationing. Even then not customers did not ‘got it’, not then, anyway.
- The tired horse that is Holyrood, it’s switching and substation system could take no more. In a series of unplanned events the power started failing again. At this point the authorities and customers finally realized the scope of the problem and the complaints and accusations began, as well as the assertion that this was not a crisis.
- From this point the whole thing became a game as all sides: government, opposition, amateur politicians and anyone with an axe to grind just started having at it over the term “crisis” instead of working toward an intelligent response.
Well, sitting here on the couch, with a pan of bread dough on the rise out in the kitchen and smarting from OH’s assertion that I am “Crazy! You know the power could go at any time and then what a mess you’ll have,” I feel inclined to defend myself while at the same time expressing my deep frustration.
This IS a crisis in the sense that, once again it has been demonstrated that we have an issue that can potentially get a lot worse if the right steps are not taken. It is NOT a crisis in that we are not guaranteed to face oblivion. Come on—like I said, we lost the power for a few days in the middle of some very out-of-the-ordinary weather. But to see it as just that is to be near sighted indeed.
Here’s how I see it: We have now been handed two significant events that clearly demonstrate that the Island portion of the electrical grid is likely too fragile to give proper service to bridge us until Muskrat comes online. This is in no way to suggest that we should so anything stupid like forgetting that project—it is, after all, our best bet for sustainable energy, given the amount of work that’s been done to date and to abandon it now and seek alternatives. Counting the money that’s been spent—and we must—Muskrat is now the cheapest choice we have for long term energy.
So get on with it; bring the new hydro development online forthwith.
That said, though, the present attitude toward the existing infrastructure seems to be one of “do the minimal; run it to the dirt so that by the time Muskrat is ready, Holyrood is well and truly worn out.” Sure that policy—if it were true—would make some sense at some boardroom level. At the home and business level, though, here’s what it means: guaranteed power losses to accompany every bit of inclement weather over the next 7-10 years and, in turn, lost economic opportunities as customers forego this suddenly “third world destination” (at least as far an energy is concerned) and, just as importantly, loss of fellow “livyers” as still more of our family, neighbors and friends say, “enough—we’re leaving.”
So, there it is: crisis; a time to reassess. Will we all just sit here in our homes and places of work content to be subjected to less-than-adequate electrical energy for the next 7-10 years but buoyed by endless streams of encouraging “hash tag conserve NL” on social media or are we going to do something about it and ensure that, while we wait for better things, we also ensure that our present days are no worse that our past ones?
I’m currently reading “Things that Matter” by Charles Krauthammer. In one of the articles he mentions that those that ration have the ability to control others and goes on to say that in our time, perhaps energy is the most strategic thing of all to withhold. How coincidental that I found myself reading this in the midst of rolling blackouts, not that I’m given to silly conspiracy theories. Now, passive aggression is one thing I do see a lot, mind you.