Ice storm: Independent panel will review Toronto Hydro’s response to power outages
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Toronto Hydro has convened an independent panel to review its response to the ice storm, the “most disruptive” event the utility has ever faced, costing it $12.9 million, executives told reporters at a briefing Thursday.
The panel will be chaired by David McFadden, a Toronto lawyer and former Conservative MPP who served on the board that looked at the causes of the 2003 blackout. Other members will include Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti and Sean Conway, research fellow with Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Energy.
“The scope is to look at the best practices we have” and recommend how to improve them, Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines said in announcing the panel.
After the ice storm, some customers were critical of the utility for not providing accurate estimates of when power would return, and for its difficulties with providing residents without power with updates on the storm response.
On Thursday, Haines said some aspects of the response “could have been done better,” adding that a recent Forum Research survey showing 82 per cent approved of Toronto Hydro’s work during the ice storm was “fair.”
“We’re fairly pleased,” he said, “(but) we do have things we can improve upon.”
Haines was joined by three of his high-ranking hydro colleagues to go over how the utility responded to the ice storm, which knocked out power to more than 300,000 energy customers and led to a massive surge of incident calls over the 10 days before service was fully restored.
There were also 500 calls about downed wires, 800 non-working traffic signals, and hospitals and water pumping stations without power.
Ben LaPianta, vice-president of electrical operations, said that when the storm hit on Dec. 22, there were widespread short circuits and fires across the utility’s systems, as downed branches and trees were knocking down power lines and blocking roads.
Comparing the city’s power grid to a tree, LaPianta said, “The ice storm picked up the tree and basically shattered it. It had to be rebuilt ... . Just a huge, huge task.”
Toronto Hydro called in nine other utility companies to help deal with the storm, he said.
When asked how Hydro chose which neighbourhoods to tackle first — some residents complained they’d seen no power trucks, after days in the cold without power — Haines said the utility simply started at the main transformers, which service up to 60,000 Hydro customers each, and worked its way outward to the end of its feeder lines.
“We don’t see it in neighbourhoods, we see it in wires,” said Haines.
A complicating factor, he added, was that workers didn’t know what they would be dealing with until they actually arrived on the scene. That’s why estimates of when power would be restored were difficult to nail down, he said.
The review panel will begin its work “in the coming days,” the hydro chief said.
Meanwhile, officials at Queen’s Park are awaiting a city council decision on whether to declare Toronto a disaster area, which could make the city eligible for provincial government relief funding through the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP). (Mississauga has already made that declaration, and called for a united front in seeking funds.)
“Our ministry has engaged with municipalities that were affected by the recent ice storm, including Toronto,” Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey’s press secretary, Mike Maka, said Thursday.
“We understand that on Friday council will consider the report asking for Toronto to be declared as disaster area. Should this report pass a council vote, our ministry will work with the city to review its eligibility for ODRAP.”
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) said Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government should expedite aid to municipalities affected by the ice storm.
“Every jurisdiction is hurting. Ontario has a disaster-relief program for a reason,” he said.
Tabuns added that the Ontario government should request federal funds from Ottawa to help with the storm cleanup.