B.C. Hydro defends response to ‘unique’ storm

Power out in some areas of Metro Vancouver for three days

B.C. Hydro is defending its efforts to restore power after a freak summer wind storm cut electricity to 533,000 Lower Mainland homes Saturday and left many residents scrambling to deal with thawing freezer food as the outages dragged on to a second and third day.

About 110,000 homes were still without power Sunday night and that dropped to 32,000 by 4 p.m. Monday – more than 50 hours after some of the outages began – drawing outrage online about spoiling food.

B.C. Hydro spokesperson Simi Heer said field managers have never seen a storm this challenging before.

“What made this storm so unique is that we had so many customers without power all on one day,” Heer said. “The last storm of this magnitude was in 2006. We had hundreds of thousands of customers without power then as well, but it was over a couple of days.”

The sheer number of downed branches and trees over lines made it more difficult to switch the flow of power to reconnect homes, she added.

Unlike a winter storm, leafy deciduous trees acted like sails and became more susceptible to the surprise southerly winds, which came after stress from a prolonged summer drought.

Hydro called in staff on vacation and brought in crews from Prince George, Smithers, Terrace, Vernon, Kamloops and Vancouver Island to work 16-hour shifts to deal with downed trees and restore power.

“The damage was extensive and it was widespread from North Vancouver to Abbotsford – it wasn’t just contained to one area,” Heer said. “So extensive repairs were required all across the South Coast.”

About 400 workers were in the field at any given time, she said, adding Hydro managers were “quite happy with the response.”

Winds gusted at times to 80 to 90 km/h Saturday, and unpowered traffic lights.

B.C. Hydro has a priority system for dispatching crews but it’s not one that favours any particular municipalities, Heer said.

Also down was BC Hydro’s website that provides details of each outage and estimates of when power is restored – an “unacceptable” failure Heer said would be investigated.