Dorian strains resources of Maritime Electric, Resort Municipality

Story and photos by Jim Brown

Angus Orford, Maritime Electric’s CEO, on left and Enrique Riveroll, the utility’s VP of customer service.

Post Tropical Storm Dorian slashed through PEI in early September, devastating much of the Island and leaving many questions in its wake.

Maritime Electric CEO Angus Orford was joined by Enrique Riveroll, the utility’s VP of customer service, for a two hour presentation at the Resort Municipality’s regular monthly meeting in early November.

A big part of their presentation dealt with criticism levelled at the Province for not declaring a state of emergency and accessing additional federal resources.

Sometimes you can just have too many people in one place, causing complications, said Orford, especially if they aren’t specially trained to deal with massive electrical disruptions, such power line technicians and utility arborists.

Mayor Matthew Jelley observed Parks Canada brought in trained personnel from places like Jasper, Alberta, Quebec and Newfoundland to cut trees, since they had the level of chainsaw use training required by Parks Canada.

Being out of power for a prolonged period of time doesn’t exactly create warm and fuzzy feelings for utility companies trying to restore everything to normal.

“Customers out for a week are probably not going to fire any accolades at Maritime Electric. But from our perspective it was an extraordinary response,” said Orford.

Workers were busy across the Island, including Kensington, for weeks after Dorian.

Re-energizing lines safely takes time, he said.

Trees fall across lines forcing workers to “isolate, clear the tree, re-energize that section and go on to the next section,” said Orford

He added there could be “beautiful weather” to work on power restoration, “but 1,500 fuses go.”
The Island’s Emergency Measures Organization believes people should be able to take care of themselves for three days, said Orford.

Of course that calculus could change in really cold weather that includes ice-storms and heavy snow.

Fortunately, Dorian struck PEI in early September and in the immediate aftermath the weather was sunny and warm.

“The reality of this type of storm is that it creates a lot of labour intensive damage” and people would run up to a lineman and ask to have power restored to their homes when that isn’t possible, said Orford.

A tree on top of a power line in New London, shortly after Dorian.

It’s a lot different than a car striking and knocking over a pole and a reasonable time frame for repairs can be given, such as four hours.

In the case of Dorian, “Some roads you couldn’t even get down till the trees were out of the way for assessment,” he explained.

Mayor Jelley said hotels booked during Dorian saw significant losses, with guests leaving after just a couple of days – believing the power would be out for much longer. In fact, the power was often restored a short time later, though many were without power for six days.

Maritime Electric has 120,000 poles in the power system, with 100,000 replaced since the 1980s. A total of 80 crews were available to handle the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

The Resort Municipality, despite its status as a small community, swells to a population of 20,000 or so in the summer due to a heavy influx of visitors and seasonal residents and as many as 25,000 when the Cavendish Beach Music Festival (CBMF) is on, in early July.

Discussions eventually moved to the problems faced in Cavendish peak periods of the spring and summer.

Deputy Mayor and local businessperson Linda Lowther said her frozen yogurt took a hit last summer.

“We have a frozen yogurt business and we have five ice cream machines and every time Maritime Electric has done any kind of a switch or played with the wires our machines would go down and we’d lose product.”

Lines of communication should be improved, she and other councillors said.

Mayor Jelley said brownouts also happened on the Cavendish Beach Music Festival Weekend.

And he went on to explain that when maintenance to the Rattenbury substation was done earlier this summer in mid-June: “We had fuses blowing, capacitors blowing on motors (and) refrigeration equipment in restaurants failing.”

Maritime Electric is hoping to get a St Mary’s Road project launched before the summer to bring a new transmission line to Cavendish. Mayor Jelley said he hoped it wouldn’t cause too much disruption during the CBMF and other busy times in the high season.

That project is part of a budget application in front of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.
Mayor Jelley want to to say: “If you need room for a substation in Cavendish I’ll probably donate the land…Certainly if there’s a transmission line up Route 6 I would do what I could to advocate…and if you need land slightly off Rte 6 and it means more reliable power then I’d be happy to donate the half an acre to make it happen.”

Cavendish is growing and so is the demand for electricity.

“Every cottage operator is putting in those heat pumps on all of their units,” said Linda Lowther.

Mayor Jelley, who is the president of Maritime Fun Group which operates Shining Waters Family Fun Park, said his business is “looking at four new waterslides…120 horsepower total, run 10 to 12 hours a day.”

When the St Mary’s Road project is finished Cavendish will have three feeds running into it.

The Resort Municipality has 14 lift stations, five telephone exchanges and three electrical substations.

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