Blockhouse power substation struck by lightning twice within two-week period

by Keith Corcoran And Kevin Mcbain

  • <p>KEITH CORCORAN, PHOTO</p><p>Paul Casey, Nova Scotia Power&#8217;s transmission, distribution and delivery vice president, addresses a recent Lunenburg town council meeting about recent weather and tree related electricity outages.</p>



It might be time for Nova Scotia Power to buy a lottery ticket.

Among the causes of some of the seemingly frequent power outages in late spring and summer in Lunenburg County were not one, but two lightening strikes at the same Blockhouse substation.

The two strikes occurred within a two-week period at what's known as the Westhaver's Elbow substation, located outside of town, but which plays a major role in servicing the town.

The two incidents of lightening were part of an unusual number of outages in the area that took place between Aug. 30 and Sept. 18.

Paul Casey, Nova Scotia Power's transmission, distribution and delivery vice president, said it's "very rare" for lighting to prompt the outages as it accounts for one per cent of the causes.

Casey addressed a recent Lunenburg and Mahone Bay town council meetings about power failures due to recent weather and tree-related factors.

"Lightning strikes account for only one per cent of power outages," said Casey told Mahone Bay council. "I've been a part of Nova Scotia Power for close to 30 years and I've never seen three transmission outages at the same substation in two weeks. It is absolutely extraordinary."

Along with the lightning strikes, an insulator was damaged Sept. 18th near the substation.

Added to the mix was an incident where a tree was felled into a power line between the substation and Mahone Bay.

"When we have an area of multiple outages like this it is of great concern for us," said Casey. "We take full accountability for this."

Lunenburg and Nova Scotia Power (NSP) inked a five-year renewable service deal in June that sees personnel from (NSP) carry out infrastructure hardware upkeep and performance work, in addition to conducting tasks such as meter reading and wiring inspections.

The five significant power disruptions between June and September weren't reflective of the NSP's level of service, Lunenburg council was told, but triggered by unforeseen and infrequent events.

A week after the second lightning strike, Casey said, an insulator failed outside the same substation. He said such an incident accounts for less than two per cent of electricity outages. There are two million insulators on the power system and the company has a replacement program aimed at dealing the equipment before it breaks down.

The other power interruptions were caused by trees; one simply fell on a line, while in the other case an individual decided to fell a tree on their own - a circumstance, Casey said, accounting for less than one per cent of electricity outages. He said no should try to deal with trees on their own considering the obvious risks.

"Trees are our biggest issue," he said. Despite an estimated $20 million in spending per year on tree-cutting, Casey suggested the wood can't hit the ground in a lot of cases unless property owners grant permission to NSP. The utility doesn't always own the trees or the land, so it means working with others to ensure a trunk or branch doesn't mess up electricity transmissions potentially affecting thousands of people.

Casey outlined the utility's spending plans, which includes $800,000 in total set aside for transmission and distribution, respectively. The work includes tree trimming and topping along the transmission right-of-way corridor that runs between Mahone Bay and Lunenburg.

Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey credited NSP for being accountable and responding to concerns.

Bailey toldLighthouseNOW it was "an unfortunate series of events" neither the town nor NSP wants to see repeated, but noting the utility "had no control over" what took place.

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