Winter storm knocks out power for half of Nova Scotia Power’s customers, prompting criticism

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WATCH: Tens of thousands of people were left in the dark on Thursday due to a mix of windy and wet weather. As Elizabeth McSheffrey reports, power might not be the only thing Nova Scotia Power will be worried about restoring in the near future.

A winter storm made for a messy morning across Nova Scotia, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands and shutting down schools in the province.

According to Nova Scotia Power, nearly 250,000 customers were in the dark as of 10 a.m. AT Thursday. More than 40,000 of those outages were in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The utility says they’ve restored power to more than 200,000 of customers by 4 p.m. AT.

Nova Scotia Power came under fire after the outages as Opposition leaders and online critics called on the government to hold the privately owned company to account.

READ MORE: Tens of thousands of NB Power customers remain in the dark

The utility, owned by Halifax-based Emera Inc., said the wind and snow pulled down one of four high-voltage transmission lines that carry electricity from power generation plants in Cape Breton to the Nova Scotia mainland.

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Nova Scotia Power CEO Karen Hutt said the remaining three lines could have handled the load, but the sagging wires went offline when they started touching each other.

The problem was compounded shortly afterwards when NB Power was hit by an outage in Memramcook, N.B., where a transmission line links New Brunswick with Nova Scotia.

“That system did the exact same thing that our system did – it shut down to protect itself,” Hutt said in an interview.

The second outage doubled the number of Nova Scotia Power customers without electricity, bringing the total to over 200,000.

It was the worst power outage the province has endured since hurricane Juan battered the region in September 2003, killing eight people and causing an estimated $100 million in damage.

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Thursday’s “fairly run-of-the-mill” storm – Halifax, for example, had virtually no snow – shouldn’t have caused such widespread blackouts.

However, Hutt insisted outages in the Halifax area, which drew heavy criticism online, were the result of particularly nasty weather in northeastern Nova Scotia, followed by the outage in New Brunswick.

“You can’t draw the conclusion that just because you’re in Halifax, you should be shielded from anything happening in other parts of the province,” she said. “That’s not the way the power system works in Nova Scotia, or in other jurisdictions.”

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Still, Burrill called on the government to hold the utility to account.

“It says something pretty serious about grid maintenance as a whole,” Burrill said. “When we have this level of infrastructure grid failure … why wouldn’t any normal person think, ‘Gosh, something is wrong here.”‘

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston was more blunt: “We pay some of the highest power rates in the country, we expect that power. When it goes out … it needs to come back.”

When Premier Stephen McNeil was asked how his Liberal government would respond to the outages, he immediately deferred to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, which regulates electric utilities.

“We put in standards around reliability,” he said after a cabinet meeting in Halifax. “At the same time, the regulator will ultimately deal with reliability.”

WATCH: Hundreds of U.S. travellers left stranded as storm cancels flights following Thanksgiving weekend

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Hundreds of U.S. travellers left stranded as storm cancels flights following Thanksgiving weekend

Outages sweep Nova Scotia

The worst hit area in the province was Eastern Passage/Cole Harbour/Preston area, where at one point 11,308 Nova Scotia Power customers were without power. The outage has since been resolved.

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As of 11 a.m. AT, the largest outage in the province is in the Hammonds Plains/Bedford area, where nearly 10,000 Nova Scotia Power customers are off the grid.

Nova Scotia Power says the outages in the Metro Halifax area are due in part to “significant interruptions” to their transmission system in northeastern Nova Scotia, which is restricting their ability to deliver electricity elsewhere.

Nova Scotia Power added that transmission interruptions in Memramcook, N.B., have shut down the link between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This is on top of the transmission interruption in Cape Breton.

Nova Scotia Power
Nova Scotia Power
Nova Scotia Power
Nova Scotia Power

School closures

The Halifax Regional Centre for Education [HRCE] says all schools will be closing early for the day due to the widespread power outages. HRCE says students who do not travel by bus will be dismissed at their regularly scheduled lunch hour, and elementary schools will be contacting parents and guardians directly.
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HRCE made the decision at 10:45 a.m.

Schools in the following areas are also closed for the day:

  • Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education – West Hants
  • Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education
  • Chignecto-Central Regional Centre for Education
  • Strait Regional Centre for Education
  • Conseil Scolaire Acadian Provincial schools in its southwest and central regions

Dalhousie University has closed its Studley, Carleton and Truro campuses except for essential services personnel. As of 11:45 a.m., Sexton campus remains open.

Saint Mary’s University and Mount Saint Vincent University have cancelled all classes happened after 12 p.m., but could reopen the school for night classes if power is restored.

Several Nova Scotia Community College campuses across the province also closed for the day due to the power outages.

Hospital closures

Several hospitals have been impacted by the power outages, especially those in East Hants, Cumberland County, Pictou County and Colchester County.

The Nova Scotia Health Authroity says the following hospitals have been impacted:

  • Eastside Health Centre and Westside Health Centre in New Glasgow. The phones at the clinic are not working so patients cannot be contacted to cancel or book appointments.
  • The Primary Health Care Clinics (doctors and nurse practitioners offices) in Parrsboro and Advocate. Patients with booked appointments are being contacted to reschedule.
  • The New Glasgow Blood Collection Clinic on East River Road is closed.
  • Lab walk-in services at Sutherland Harris Memorial Hospital in Pictou are closed and will reopen on Friday at 7 a.m.
  • Laboratory collection services at North Cumberland Memorial Hospital in Pugwash, South Cumberland Community Care Centre in Parrsboro and Bayview Memorial Health Centre in Advocate Harbour are all cancelled.

Emergency health operations in the HRM have not been impacted, but invasive eye surgeries at the eye care clinic at the Victoria General have been placed on hold.

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There are currently no weather-related closures in any of the counties in Cape Breton or along the South Shore.

— With files from Dave Squires and The Canadian Press