By Heather Killen
With more than 2,200 people still in the dark after nearly a week, Nova Scotia Power is under review.
Premier Stephen McNeil, along with ministers Andrew Younger, left, and Mark Furey held a press conference in Middleton to discuss Nova Scotia Power’s response to the post-Arthur power outages
Premier Stephen McNeil, along with ministers Leo Glavine, Andrew Younger and Mark Furey, held a press conference in Middleton to discuss Nova Scotia Power’s response to the post-Arthur power outages.
McNeil is calling for a priority review of Nova Scotia Power and how emergency situations like this one will be handled. The Utility Review Board will release details of this process next week and people will have a chance to have their say.
“We recognize the hard work by the dedicated crews, but response from Nova Scotia Power was inexcusable,” he said. “We can do better and we believe a priority review is required given the extreme outages and communication challenges.”
While the review is looking at staffing levels and the condition of infrastructure, ensuring residents receive clear and accurate information is also a top priority, according to McNeil. It’s estimated that of the 2,200 Nova Scotians still without power, 1,342 of them are Valley residents. Pockets of powerless residents are scattered throughout the Valley.
McNeil told reporters that his own family went without electricity for five days and he understands the frustration people are feeling. He added that some of the most vulnerable people have been put into potentially dangerous situations.
McNeil said if Nova Scotia Power had provided accurate information to residents, people would have made other decisions to protect food and necessities for longer periods of time.
“If accurate information had been provided, if people knew what to expect, they would have made other decisions,” he said. “This was a summer storm, so people didn’t prepare the way they would for a winter storm. It caught us by surprise, but it won’t happen again.”
He pointed out that many low-income people lost freezers full of food, as well as their weekly gas allowances, trying to fuel generators or drive to community comfort centers.
"The minister of energy has spoken with the chair of the UARB and they have agreed this requires further investigation to examine Nova Scotia Power's preparedness and response to the storm."
The government is asking for a complete review that will include storm preparedness, staffing levels, the scope of tree-pruning along power lines, the state of infrastructure as well as the company’s communication policies.
Energy Minister Andrew Younger said Annapolis County was probably the hardest hit, but so far, there are no estimates on how much the damage will cost to repair.
Most of the severe damage took place at substations and other key pieces of infrastructure, taking out the electricity in neighbourhood blocks without much apparent damage to powerlines.
He added that one of the major frustrations many people experienced was a lack of information about where power outages were taking place and the inaccurate estimates for restoration times.
Younger said that while he didn’t lose electricity in either his Dartmouth home or his office, Nova Scotia Power included his addresses on their outage list, while people who lost power in other areas were told their service was fine.
"Arthur is the first named storm for 2014, so if there are immediate improvements that can be made, we want them to be done expeditiously," said Younger. "We hold our utility to the highest standards, and we need to understand why it has taken so long to restore power and why people weren't properly informed."
Government is also including other key infrastructure partners, such as Eastlink, Bell Aliant and others, next week to review emergency response efforts.
"Significant storms always carry the risk of infrastructure loss, but we need to identify what can be done to minimize this loss," said Emergency Management Office Minister Mark Furey. "We'll also be taking a close look at how all organizations responded to the emergency to identify areas for improvement before we're hit with another significant storm."
In response the premier’s announcement, officials at Nova Scotia Power issued a timely response, welcoming a review of their storm preparedness.