Freezing in the dark

FTLComm - Tisdale - Monday, January 13, 2003
Though it definitely can get much colder the -30ºC temperatures in La Ronge this past weekend and today can feel pretty chilly and without heat and light cold just doesn't cover the way it gets in even a well insulated house. On house in La Ronge yesterday was a comfortable 20º when the power went off just after twelve. The lone occupant confined herself to a single room which held up fairly well falling only to 18ºº by the time the power came back on at 7:05 while the rest of the house cooled off to 15º. Nearly eight hours without electricity and heat is a very long time and with homes less well insulated conditions would have been much worse. With friends who had wood heat in their homes the possibility of going there to wait out the cold was not an option because it was to cold for the car to start.
SaskPower's public relations representative Larry Christie explained on the phone this morning that an investigation is underway to find out why the transformer at the La Ronge substation failed. This is a major component not a little barrel hanging on a pole but a massive unit. The reason for the long delay in restoring power was caused by the time it took to haul a mobile transformer up from Prince Albert. Once the mobile unit was in place and tied into the system SaskPower began restoring power to the area one section at a time beginning around 6:30.
Without knowing what caused the initial outage the officials at SaskPower were uneasy about their temporary fix and their worries turned into reality this morning at 8:30 with the mobile transformer packed it in blacking all areas from Christopher Lake North.
Most of the La Ronge school buses had already dropped off their students but the buses were soon loaded up as all of the schools in the area were shut down. Mid morning I called the schools in the community and discovered that with the power down only Gordon Deni school was able to answer their phone as even the Northern Lights School Division office was out of business.
SaskPower was hoping that they would be able to restore power by noon but at 1:40 as I write this the power is still off.
We have all come to rely upon SaskPower and in the summer when lightening strikes we have gotten used to the amazing speed the system can be restored when it is rarely more than thirty minutes from power off to things coming back on. But this is the way things are in Southern Saskatchewan. In the North it is quite a different story. A single line feeds power to La Ronge and the surrounding communities which have a combined population of more than 7,900 residents. In order to beef up the service and give the similar service that we enjoy in the South a new heavier line is being installed but difficulties with residents of the Christopher Lake area have stalled the installation of this new line.
The resistance at Chrstopher Lake came from home owners in the area who did not want their part of the world invaded by a large high voltage power line and little by little the hold out owners have given in so that there is only one owner still resisting the completion of the line. Work is proceeding with clearing of right away North of Christopher Lake and it is expected that construction on the new line will be undertaken within the next month.
But in the mean time the power is off. With the system collapsing on a very cold day it suggests that demand has something to do with the problem and it may be that the present light line and infrastructure are simply not up to the task of meeting the demands this winter. There is no question that SaskPower's engineers are truly concerned about this problem. It is reasonable to speculate that mobile temporary diesel generation units may have to be brought into the area to back up the system until the new line is eventually installed.
3:00PM -The story above was written before 1:30 and since then we have obtained more details. When the power came on last night it was only on a few minutes then blacked out for another ten minutes or so. There was power over night but the electricity actually failed near Churchill and PreCam schools at 0800 this morning. The school authorities had a tough time deciding what to do as the power did sputter a few times and it was decided to wait until it had been up for a full hour before deciding to operate in the afternoon. However, the twelve o'clock resumption was not met and SaskPower advised people that they expected to resume service at 4:00.
CBC had been off the air yesterday but today it is running but the community is pretty well shut down with no water, telephones only partially operational (single lines work but in large businesses and offices the telephones rely on a computer system and of course that was shut down) and people even unable to get gas for their vehicles.
The lack of water is particularly dangerous for a modern community as people with makeshift heating can easily set off a fire and the town's water supply is out of service so fire fighting would be impossible.
Long time LaRonge residents are taking this two day power outage in their stride and it is surprising to discover how many have wood heat or in many cases their own generators. But for those not so equipped the residual heat has been seeping away and one resident told me that her room temperature was down to 15º now and conditions in the schools were well below tolerable levels.

Timothy W. Shire



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Editor : Timothy W. Shire
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