Hydro One: 2023 poor for momentary and sustained outages, improvements continue in Essex

Representatives of Hydro One attended a special Essex Council meeting last Tuesday evening to connect and communicate with the local municipal decision-makers on outage data and infrastructure work being completed to improve the system.

This is the third time since August of 2022 Council has met publicly with representatives of Hydro One to coordinate on concerns and openly discuss issues. The last meeting took place last April.

Essex asks Hydro One to present feedback fairly regularly on the information it has received from the community through outage reporting, and on items the Town would like to address with the utility, Essex CAO Doug Sweet said of the reason for the meeting. He added the last two meetings with representatives from the local utility have been productive.

Maalika Kara, Community Relations Manager at Hydro One, thanked Council for the opportunity to provide an update on the “immediate steps we’ve taken since our last Council presentation to improve reliability in the area.

“We understand power interruptions – even brief flicking of lights – can be frustrating for our customers. We want to thank you and your constituents. At our last meeting, we encouraged your constituents to report any power outages they are experiencing. We have consolidated this data and have some information to share, based on their diligent reporting, today,” Kara said, adding updates would also be provided as to what that will mean for Hydro One moving forward.

Lei Zhu, Senior Manager of Distribution for Hydro One, said they have used customer location, outage data from devices they installed, and reporting from customers to better pinpoint areas of power interruptions.

Unfortunately, despite efforts, 2023 was “a poor year in terms of reliability,” Zhu said. “We are still seeing numerous momentary interruptions downstream of Harrow in Colchester and the beaches area west of Colchester.”

The Kingsville M1 is the feeder that supplies Harrow and Colchester, Zhu noted. He added that momentary interruptions over the years from the feeder have reduced. There were 23 in 2019, 26 in 2020, 23 in 2021, 15 in 2022, and 16 in 2023.Since 2021, Hydro One has installed several devices on the distribution line – before and after both Harrow and Colchester. The devices in the Colchester area were installed late last spring.“

These devices together help us to better sectorize the line and minimize the impact where fault in one area has on the rest of the feeder,” he said.2023 was also a poor year for sustained outages, ones that are longer and require field crews to respond, Zhu commented. The Kingsville M1 feeder had 24.1-hours of sustained outages without force majeure (major events) or loss of supply. It also experienced 43-hours of sustained power outages with force majeure.

That is compared to 6.7-hours in each category in 2019.

“There were a number of major events, as well as local storms, that significantly impacted our customers’ experience,” he said. “A big part of this number [was] some of the local storms that we have experienced in Essex. In fact, when we compare Essex against our other service territories across the province, Essex has been impacted the most – or hit the hardest – by these localized weather events.”

He added the average customer on the Kingsville M1 feeder would have experienced four of these outages in 2023, which is a bit higher than the previous four-year average.

In addition, Hydro One had a transmission tower failure in August of last year, which lost supply to the Kingsville station and impacted the ability to supply distribution customers. There were also several major storms in February with freezing rain and forestry issues.

“We are going to continue to invest in the Harrow and Colchester area to improve the reliability to move forward on the commitments we have discussed before,” he said. That includes targeted off-cycle vegetation management, patrolled lines every time an outage occurs, and the installation of an additional recloser just west of Colchester to contain and minimize impact of outages and additional Communicating Fault Circuit Indicators on Ridge Road for increased data recording and visibility of outages on the system.

In the spring, Hydro One plans to conduct infrared line patrol, then repair and replace any defective assets afterwards.

Saad Feroz, who is part of the System Planning Team, added though Hydro One has invested significantly in the region, more work is still required. Hydro One, he added, is looking to upgrade existing reclosers with remote operable electronic reclosers for improved coordination between devices to minimize momentary interruptions.

The utility also plans to install additional remote operable electronic reclosers on the Kingsville feeder to further sectionalize and minimize impact of outages, planning a major line investment in South-West Essex, building 3km of line to supply customers from an alternate source, addressing reliability and increase load capacity, and targeting off-cycle vegetation management.

It will also continue patrolling lines when outages occur.

In addition, Feroz added that Regional Planning is now at the Integrated Regional Resource Planning (IRRP) stage, in which the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) will announce proposals to rectify transmission needs. That is expected in the second half of 2024.In the event of an outage, even momentarily, customers are encouraged to contact Hydro One directly to report it, Kara added. That helps the utility track the number of outages and pinpoint locations.

Essex Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley asked if Hydro One supports the Town-owned ELK Energy’s investments to improve reliability in the ELK territory, and asked for examples.

Zhu said Hydro One has, and will continue to work, with ELK. In the past, the two entities have come together in terms of ensuring devices are coordinated together to minimize outages. In recent months, there have been ongoing discussions regarding additional investments that are being looked at in the ELK service territory in Harrow. Hydro One is looking to work with ELK to support those developments.

ELK, Shepley added, made a request in May of 2023 to install smart switches in Harrow to improve reliability. He asked when ELK can expect an answer to the request.

Zhu believed that request was being worked on in terms of details with the operating team. He was told that should be soon, and that there were some operating details that need to be agreed upon.

Mayor Sherry Bondy said Hydro One does a great job getting linesmen onsite when there is a storm, which is appreciated. She hopes 2024 doesn’t bring any storms.

Typically, she believes residents understand when there are long outages. It is the flickers that tend to do damage.

She appreciates the relationship the Town has with Hydro One, and noted it is good residents get to see the Town and Hydro One communicating openly. She wondered if Hydro One has noticed more residents reporting outages.

Zhu believes Hydro One is seeing more reports.

Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Essex Free Press