Hydro One and Hydro Ottawa estimate they’ve spent nearly $16 million in total repairing the extensive damage caused by three tornadoes that ripped through Ottawa and the area west of the city on Sept. 21, 2018, according to preliminary figures provided by the two utilities.
Approximately $10 million of that was spent fixing the Merivale transmission station, which was hit by the category EF-2 twister that tore through Ottawa’s west end, a spokesperson for Hydro One told Global News.
The other tornadoes caused $2.6 million and $45,000 in damages to Hydro One’s local distribution system and to the Calabogie distribution system, respectively, the utility said.
Over at Hydro Ottawa, the tornado blew through the utility’s contingency fund for the year, racking up a bill of $3.1 million for capital repairs and ancillary costs, according to information from the company.
The violent windstorms — which flattened homes and shattered cars — battered 2.7 miles (4.3 km) of power lines and 67 utility poles, Hydro Ottawa reported.
“It was all hands on deck to restore power quickly and safely,” Hydro Ottawa media spokesperson Rebecca Hickey said.
Tornado impact on Hydro One
Hydro One’s transformer station in Nepean is one of two supply points where Ottawa’s electricity network connects to the provincial grid. The EF-2 tornado left the Merivale station “destroyed,” wrote Tiziana Baccega Rosa, senior media relations advisor at Hydro One.
The wreckage was responsible for many of the 251 power outages across the city that Friday evening. Crews, however, were able to save the transformer, Baccega Rosa told Global News, and they also ended up replacing components of the station that would have had to be renewed in a few years’ time.
Crews worked around the clock to get power flowing again temporarily within 48 hours, but the permanent repairs took three months in total, Hydro One said.
Hydro One said it could not provide a detailed breakdown of the $10 million in costs or figures on hours worked by crews over those 12 weeks at this time.
Baccega Rosa said Hydro One has insurance that will cover “some” of the damage to the transmission station and the claims process is still in the works. The expenses related to damage at the local distribution systems will be covered by the utility’s contingency fund, she said.
All in all, more than 508,000 Hydro One customers in the Ottawa area and surrounding communities were affected by the powerful windstorms, including nearly 95,000 customers in Arnprior, Perth and Winchester, Baccega Rosa noted.
The same tornado that hit Dunrobin also devastated the Gatineau, Que. neighbourhood of Mont-Bleu. Le Journal de Montreal reported earlier this month that the tornado damage across the river cost Hydro-Québec more than $8.4 million.
Tornadoes dried up Hydro Ottawa’s rainy day fund; no cost passed on to customers
Out of the $3.1 million Hydro Ottawa paid out in the aftermath of the twisters, $2.3 million was spent specifically on capital repairs for “damaged or destroyed infrastructure,” Dan Seguin, Hydro Ottawa’s manager of media and public affairs, said in a separate statement to Global News.
This also included employee salaries, contractors and mutual aid workers, according to the company.
More than 50 per cent (around 172,000) of Hydro Ottawa’s 331,777 customers had no power at the peak of the outages, Hickey said. It took thousands of hours of “tireless work” by hydro crews, contractors and other employees to turn the lights back on for most of those customers by the end of Sept. 24, three days after the tornados hit, Hickey said. (The rest got their power back the next day.)
Hickey said Hydro Ottawa employees collectively worked a total of 3,825 hours, while contractors and assisting companies — including Alectra Utilities from southern Ontario — collectively chipped in 2,361 hours. (The company did not specify how many of those hours constituted overtime work.)
The remaining $800,000 of the $3.1 million in expenses went towards “inspection, minor repairs and ancillary costs,” Seguin noted.
While Hydro Ottawa budgets annually for “unexpected capital events,” the costs of these post-tornado repairs — plus “other severe weather events” in 2018 — exceeded the amount the company tucked away for the year, according to the spokesperson.
This has an effect on Hydro Ottawa’s cash flow and forces the utility to “prioritize” planned work, but the tornado-related expenses don’t impact the company’s bottom line, Seguin wrote.
“Our year-end is in process so it is premature to confirm the final impact on overall financial results,” he said.
Customers are not on the hook for any operating costs in excess of Hydro Ottawa’s budget, Seguin added, but those extra expenses “impact shareholder (City of Ottawa) returns.”
City of Ottawa spent $750K on emergency repairs to buildings: memo
The City of Ottawa recently reported its own tornado-related expenses in a memo released publicly on Jan. 17.
Officials reported that the municipality has spent $750,000 so far on emergency repairs for four buildings:
- Dunrobin Community Hall
- Galetta Community Hall
- Trend-Arlington Community Building
- OC Transpo’s Colonade/Merivale Garage.
The Dunrobin centre sustained roofing and siding damage; the Galetta centre and OC Transpo garage both sustained roof damage; and the Trend-Arlington Community Building sustained roof and site damage, according to the memo.
Alain Gonthier, the city’s director of infrastructure services, wrote that the city is “continuing to track, assess and review” the condition of the roads in the areas impacted by the extreme weather on Sept. 21 and said possible road repairs may add to the city’s bill.
At a gathering of Canada’s big-city mayors in the national capital on Monday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told reporters the city did not receive financial help from the federal government in connection with the tornadoes because the municipality’s costs didn’t meet the threshold to qualify for federal assistance.
The group of mayors on Monday pressed the federal government to up financial support for municipalities dealing with natural disasters and the consequences of extreme weather, saying municipalities are on the “front lines” of that response.
In making a case for the extra funding on Monday, Watson pointed to September’s tornadoes and heavy floods that affected Ottawa and Gatineau in 2017 as examples of extreme weather sucking up municipal dollars.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported earlier this month that the six tornadoes that hit the Ottawa-Gatineau region in September caused $295 million in insured damage.