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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Residents express frustration with power flickers, outages to Hydro One

by Sylene Argent

During a special Council meeting held on Monday, August 22, area residents had an opportunity to detail the frustrations they have gone through in experiencing power flickers and outages – some of which they claimed caused damage to electronics or appliances – while representatives from Hydro One listened.

  Manager of Distribution Investment, Gaurav Kumar, and Ani Bekmezian, Community Relations Advisor, for Hydro One joined the meeting virtually to present on the utility and recent outages.

  “As you know, Hydro One has a long history of energizing Southwest Ontario and your community,” Bekmezian said.

  “We understand power interruptions are frustrating for our customers, even brief flickering ones,” she added.

  Kumar took a moment to thank customers for their continued feedback and contacting them when they are experiencing an outage. “We take a look at all of this information in order to decide how we are going to ensure the reliability of supply to customers.”

  He said Hydro One takes its role of providing safe, reliable power as a top priority.

  “You should know we have been taking immediate steps to improve the reliability of supply in the Town of Essex,” Kumar said, noting Essex County is served through six transmission stations, 15 distribution stations, and 70 distribution lines.

  He noted Essex Centre is served by ELK Energy, and Harrow is supplied by ELK Energy and Hydro One.

  Focusing on the Kingsville M1 and M7 feeders, he said reports indicate outages are mostly a result of momentary outages affecting these lines for Harrow and Colchester.

  Outages upstream on the line, and impact those down the line because the whole line is de-energized, Kumar said.

  “As we understand from our customers, most of these outages are frequent momentary flickers, sometimes lasting a few seconds, but essentially, it happens so much, we understand that people are frustrated,” he said.

  In speaking to momentary outages, he explained it is industry practice for rural distribution systems to be designed and operated in a way that essentially allows for interruptions. And the reason for that is to minimize longer outage durations and longer interruptions.

  When something contacts the line – it could be weather, or inadvertent animal or vegetation contact – they are the main causes of momentary outages.

  “When we see a momentary flicker, it is the system working to ensure power is being restored as quickly as possible,” Kumar said.

  To improve service reliability, Kumar said Hydro One has made significant investments, starting in 2017. These investments help to reduce outages, the customers affected by the outages, and the outage response times.

  Those improvements include conducting line patrols after every outage to identify the potential cause and make the repair, reconfiguring the distribution system to help reduce momentary outages and those affected, installing equipment to allow crews to identify when an issue is on a line, and completing over 250km of vegetation management in 2021 in Essex County.

  “We take our commitments to the towns and to all of our customers very seriously,” Kumar said. “We are investing in the area.”

  For Harrow and Colchester, Kumar said infrastructure patrol on distribution lines will be conducted to identify any equipment needing attention. In addition, equipment will be installed in Colchester to minimize the number of customers affected by an outage and to reduce outage durations.       

  He added the next planned vegetation management work is planned for 2024/25.

   He added if there is an ELK customer experiencing power quality issues, Hydro One works together with ELK to address any issues that may come up.

  He noted on June 15, Hydro One reps and Town of Essex staff met to discuss the Town’s development areas and how the utility can support that growth. Since that meeting, the two organizations have been working together.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman thanked Hydro One frontline workers who go out in inclement weather to work on issues.

  He said Colchester has a lot of problems. “It seemed that we had quite a few flickers and things going on early in the year, and then, somewhere around May/June, it settled right down,” Bjorkman said, noting residents were experiencing six or seven momentary power outages in around a month-and-a-half period. Then suddenly, residents were experiencing them every day again.

  He asked if something had happened to account for that.

  Earlier in the year, Kumar said, Hydro One distribution had some loss of supply events, where distribution stations were without power, mainly due to adverse weather. Towards June, he said, Hydro One was in the process of refurbishing the Kingsville Transmission Station to improve the reliability of supply.

  “Sometimes, there are unintended consequences of making these investments, and so there were some flickers that happened at that time,” he said, noting he would have to delve into the matter further.

  Bjorkman said some households experience catastrophes. Some just have to reset clocks when there are outages, others lose appliances. He asked what it takes to qualify to need an appliance repaired. 

  Kumar said he is not an expert at the claims process, but could get back to him on it. With one house needing to only reset a clock and others experiencing ruined appliances, he said it depends on what is happening in the system at the time.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy believes Council needs to hear from the Hydro One reps again on the compensation.

  Council, she added, takes a lot of heat for the amount of power outages in the municipality.

  She would like to see Hydro One send the Town a report every month noting the calls that came into the office and the reason for the outages. “This is a good first step, but it is only the first step,” she said.

  Kumar said he will provide a copy of the information requested.

  Essex Mayor Richard Meloche asked if the distribution centre in McGregor could be made into a transmission station, and if there is potential that could be a source of power for Harrow and Colchester in an event its own station goes down.

  Hydro One, Kumar said, has a diligent planning process to ensure all investments believed needed are made. He said a lot of investment has gone into the Kingsville Transmission Station to ensure reliability of supply. The McGregor Distribution Line is not particularly close to a transmission line.

  “Our planning process for every distribution station includes ensuring that the customers supplied from the distribution stations have good reliability of supply,” Kumar said, adding he believes the McGregor Distribution Station is scheduled for an upgrade in its five-year plan.

  A Colchester area resident spoke to the impact power outages have had on her family. She said the area is expecting growth of around 500 homes.

  “I have lost six refrigerators in 19-years,” she said, noting they had a computer component for the ice maker. She claimed when she goes to buy a new fridge, she is told the damage is because of power flickers. When she contacted the Hydro One claims department, she alleged she has been told there have been no power flickers in her area.

  In the past, she would call to report power flickers. She got tired of calling and nothing happening.    

Since the beginning of the year, she has documented power flickers. In that time, she claims to have caught 38 power outages. She asked what the Hydro One reps could do.

  She asked how electric cars can be accommodated in the future when there are power flickers now.

  Meloche noted residents were there to talk to the Council members, and it is asking Hydro One to listen in on questions and concerns.

  Council was asked to follow up on her matter.

  “We would like for our Council to ask for more reliable products from Hydro One, so that we don’t have to replace appliances or have to call them repeatedly,” she said.

  Meloche said many have brought messages forward like this, and Council is working diligently and asking questions of Hydro One and setting up meetings to do so.

  He has asked Hydro One if the percentage of outages on that feeder line are higher than what it is on other feeder lines in the province.

  Another resident shared her experience with numerous outages, some lasting a longer length of time. Since 2018, she and her husband have been recording the outages, the types they are, and the weather conditions. In 2018, there were 32 outages. In 2019 there were 31, in 2021 there were 24, and there have been 32 outages this year so far.

  Hydro One has responded to the info she sends, but she said its reps do not provide concrete info on how to correct the situation.

  “We are frustrated and tired of reporting the outages when little or nothing is done to correct the situation,” she said.

Before future developments, she said the energy supply needs to be looked at.

  Bondy motioned to invite the reps from Hydro One to a follow up meeting in September with more details on the matter. In a recorded vote, all members of Council supported the motion.

  “This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we deal with as elected officials on a daily basis,” Bondy said to the Hydro One reps.

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