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How come the lights keep going out in Mount Stewart?

Utility poles on Main Street in Mount Stewart are part of the distribution system that sends electricity to surrounding communities. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)
Utility poles on Main Street in Mount Stewart are part of the distribution system that sends electricity to surrounding communities. (Ken Linton/CBC - image credit)

Some residents of Mount Stewart and area got a double wallop of winter last weekend.  Along with the deep freeze of the cold snap, they had a prolonged power outage — 14 hours or so, punctuated with a return of power a few times, only for it to go out again.

It may not have been a one-off event.  A growing number of residents say every time there's a storm of some sort, the power seems to go out.

"This seems to happen over and over again here in the Mount Stewart area," said Paula Smith, a lifelong resident of the nearby community of Glenfinnan.

"Anytime it's windy or the wind picks up or there's any kind of weather, it seems like we lose power for some period of time."

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

Smith said she and her mother got off lucky this past Saturday. Only one pipe froze in the house that the two women share.

Smith turned off the water supply quickly so damage was minimal. But a generator they keep on hand failed to start when needed, so their heat pump and oil furnace didn't work until the generator problem was solved. Smith said it needed a new spark plug.

Their power went off at 7:30 a.m. and came back on about 10:30 p.m., she said, with a few short-lived returns of power in between, usually lasting 20 to 25 minutes at a time.

Smith is convinced something's up with utility service in her area.

"Since Fiona, it's been progressively worse," said Smith. "We have a community group and everyone seems to be upset and frustrated with the situation."

"Obviously, there's a bigger issue at hand."

MLA hearing from area residents

The local MLA said he's hearing similar comments from other residents in communities including Mount Stewart, Fort Augustus and Peakes.

"It seems to be that this area in particular is always getting hit whenever, you know, the winds pick up or we have an event like we had this past weekend," said Sidney MacEwen, MLA for Morell-Donagh.

Ken Linton/CBC
Ken Linton/CBC

"Is this area one of the spots that automatically being shut down? Is it, you know, substation work? Is it transmission lines? Like what is the cause of what's happening in this area?" he said.

"We had areas that had seven different power outages in 24 hours," said MacEwen. "I think people have been more than patient ... it's a safety thing."

Extention of line would improve reliability

CBC News asked Maritime Electric for information on the frequency of power outages in Mount Stewart and area. The utility said it does not have exact reliabilty data.

In a statement emailed Tuesday to CBC News, Maritime Electric say it has a project in its 2023 capital budget for an extension of line in the area that will improve reliability. The utility said its has submitted an application for the project to the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.

The utility company has said peak electrical load on P.E.I. hit a record high last weekend, at 393 megawatts. Maritime Electric has said there were no rolling outages or brownouts due to excessive load. Localized outages during the cold snapped peaked at about 3,000 to 4,000 customers, according to the utility.

"Most of that was related to equipment functioning the way it was supposed to protect the system.... Certainly don't want to see customers without power, but it avoids damage to the system," said Jason Roberts, CEO of Maritime Electric, in an interview Monday with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin.

Carolyn Ryan/CBC
Carolyn Ryan/CBC

Maritime Electric said backup generators in Charlottetown and Borden were fired up during the cold snap, as supplies from New Brunswick, and further upstream, in Quebec, were also challenged by high demand.

MacEwan said he'd be willing to host a community meeting to help Maritime Electric answer concerns of its customers in Mount Stewart area.

"People are understanding. If they know what the reasons are, they're going to be more understanding," said MacEwen. "And I think of the line crews too. They've had a hell of a winter."