WESTLOCK — A combination of issues including voltage “bumps” in the transmission line disrupted power for thousands of Westlock-area residents over several days last week starting Jan. 17.
And while power has now been restored to all Wild Rose REA Ltd. rural customers, a thorough investigation is underway, said Wild Rose REA Ltd. CEO Stuart Fox-Robinson in a Jan 20 interview.
“This type of outage is a bit of an anomaly and it needs to be investigated properly and dealt with properly,” he said. “The cause of this is actually the transmission line. There’s been several ‘bumps’ in the transmission line … we own the distribution line, Fortis (Alberta) owns the distribution and transmission lines (and the infrastructure) is owned by AltaLink. The area has had several bumps, people have felt it over a very widespread area including customers of other entities outside of Wild Rose and the other wire owners.”
Fox-Robinson explained that “transmission line bumps” occur when you have an “overvoltage” of the system.
“There has been a problem with the transmission line and it has bumped the voltage somehow,” he said, noting that the transmission line operates at a much higher voltage than the distribution line.
He explained that there are different voltage levels for single-phase lines (8,000 or 14,400 volts) and three-phase lines (25,000 volts), while the transmission line is 125,000 volts.
“So, when you get a transmission bump, you’re putting that kind of voltage into smaller lines. What we’ve been able to trace everything back to at this point, is pretty much those transmission bumps causing significant issues,” he said.
While transmission line related issues and power surges have happened previously, they are not a regular occurrence.
“It’s been some time, I’m thinking probably 10-plus years since we’ve had incidents like this over several days,” said Fox-Robinson. “If we combine that with some of the atmospheric conditions, they probably haven’t helped matters, but a full incident investigation is going to be taking place.”
On social media, area residents from west of Busby and Pickardville to Fawcett, Dapp, and the Town of Westlock all reported experiencing either short power surges or outages lasting anywhere from seconds to several hours between Jan. 17-19 — in the case of the town, the power went out briefly on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wild Rose also posted updates on its website over those days notifying customers they were “experiencing a widespread power outage” affecting customers between Pibroch and Jarvie “due to another wire owner.”
Other updates noted that while power had been restored to most areas, there was an outage affecting customers in the Cross Lake and Fawcett areas, as well as smaller outages throughout their service territory. In another update posted Jan. 18, they stated that “due to the frost” they were responding to “multiple outages” that day.
Tanya Croft, manager of corporate communications with Fortis Alberta, was able to confirm Monday, Jan. 23, that Fortis “did respond to an issue specific to transmission lines that caused short outages to FortisAlberta and WildRose REA customers.”
“Typically, fog related, or hoar frost does have some significant impact on our power lines,” said Croft Jan. 20. “The weight begins to accumulate on the surface and puts weight on the lines which causes damage to the line, as well in some cases could even bring the entire line down.”
Fox-Robinson noted there were “some small pockets and some large pockets of outages” that have caused a varying level of damage to the distribution system infrastructure and they will pursue talks with AltaLink in the coming weeks.
“We’re going to be having some significant engagement with AltaLink regarding the matter. The most immediate concern that I have is getting to a point of resolution immediately,” he said.
Fox-Robinson noted that he reached out to many Wild Rose customers during the outage and lauded them for their patience, and respectful and polite manner in dealing with staff during “an incredibly stressful time.” He said that staff had worked “around the clock to restore power” to all their customers and that as of Jan. 20 there were no reported issues.
“Whether it’s our operations staff in the field or our administrative staff, I really would say that our members have been absolutely fantastic to deal with,” he said. “They’ve had that patience with us, and they’re looking to try and understand some of the things that have happened out there.”