ST. MARY’S – Some of the worst weather ever to afflict the province’s power grid, runaway levels of copper wire theft along the Eastern Shore and a secret contact number solely for municipal officials highlighted a presentation by no fewer than five Nova Scotia Power Inc. (NSPI) officials during a video presentation to St. Mary’s council last month.
At the municipality’s invitation, Government Relations Advisor Mary Black, Director of Transmission and Distribution Operations Matt Drover, Field Supervisor Darlene Bonvie, Operations Manager Baron Young and Distribution System Forester Jason Lyver spent the better part of an hour on May 18 explaining why St. Mary’s seemed unusually burdened by frequent outages last winter — as many as two per week through January, February and March — and what the utility is doing about it.
“We definitely had a very impactful winter, and we understand how impactful is was for the entire province,” Drover said. “We had significant storms pretty much from the beginning of January, right through to the end of March.”
At the same time, he added, NSPI has invested millions of dollars on remedies —particularly roadside tree trimming — in the area since 2015, with plans to spend more in the near future. “I really focus on the key distribution feeders to this area, and we’ve spent over $1.7 million on vegetation management, which equates to about 93 kilometres,” he said. “Over the next two years, we are estimating doing 52 more kilometres and spending $1.4 million.
“To us, that is the biggest way to improve the liabilities of these storms. We’re removing those trees from the right of ways and getting them out of the impact zones where they actually impact our powerlines.”
Beyond this, Drover said, NSPI “continues to look at improving the accuracy” of then model it uses to assess the condition of its transmission lines in the field. “We are making sure that the inspection data that we get continues to give us the right intel on the assets that need to be replaced before they fail … Those are the high voltage lines … pole conductors … various types of transformers from the field. We spend over $100 million annually [provincewide] on asset replacements, and focusing on these inspection types.”
Also hindering operations in the St. Mary’s area is theft of the copper wire that NSPI uses in its transmission infrastructure, according to Bonvie. “We’re getting a lot of issues with wire being stolen from here,” she said. “This vandalism is taking place in your communities, and it does interfere with the quality of your power.”
She added: “Keep an eye out along the road. Do you see people working on the line and they’re not in a Nova Scotia Power vehicle? Keep your eyes open and share that. You can give us a call.”
To this end, NSPI offers a special telephone number exclusively for municipal officials in the province.
“It’s a dedicated contact line that we provide only to elected officials and their staff,” said Black, adding: “Now, I do want to say the reason why we only provide it to elected officials is because there are over 500 of you folks across Nova Scotia. There are a lot of you. So, for that reason, we ask that you not share this dedicated information with any of your constituents, so that we’re able to serve you with the service level that we strive for. The phone number is monitored 24/7/365.”
Said Drover: “We take our commitment to liability very seriously… we are tracking the weather very closely, and we understand that that's changing. Because of that, we are investing differently than we have in the past … This is an ongoing effort.”