Weekend power outages plague islanders at south end

  • Jan. 17, 2005 10:00 a.m.

It was a very dark weekend for people on the south end of the islands, as numerous power outages left BC Hydro customers blindly stumbling for flashlights and matches. When the power went out for the third time (in the middle of a movie) you probably asked “why?”
There are several factors that came together to disrupt the system, according to BC Hydro’s Frank McGowan. Firstly, the two weeks of cold, extremely dry weather dried the insulators on the power poles. Then, two days of high winds picked up fresh salt off the ocean and deposited it all over the insulators. Next, the light drizzle turned the caked salt into a conductor, which shorted out the high-voltage system. “This has happened before,” said Mr. McGowan, “but not as bad as this.” The poles get electrified when this happens, he said, and look like they’re on fire. If it had rained though, instead of just drizzled, it would have washed the salt away – which is what usually happens.
“It’s been very busy,” he said. On Sunday night, a downed tree knocked the power out for Port residents, and just as crews restored power there, there was another outage in Charlotte. Masset stayed relatively powered up for the whole weekend though, apart from a few short-lived ‘bumps.’
There were 24 blips and outages in 2004, and according to BC Hydro spokesperson Charmane Edwards, outages here are usually due to trees and branches falling on the lines, but “each one is individual.” On the islands at this time of year there are a lot of windstorms, she said, and the branches and trees on the lines create a huge challenge for the crews trying to restore power, because they have to work with each damaged section individually. So why does the power sometimes conk out on a perfectly calm day? Equipment failure is one reason, she said, but also broken poles and heavy, wet snow can contribute to outages. The reason for one recent outage, which left over 3,000 customers without power on Friday morning, is still under investigation, said Ms. Edwards.

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