Almost two full weeks after hurricane Arthur dealt us a crippling blow, I watched NSPI front line staff continue to struggle with the aftermath of the tropical storm as weakened branches and limbs continued to break and fall in the heavy rain. When I spoke to an obviously very tired NSPI employee he said the one thing he most valued right now was a full night’s sleep. That comment in turn prompted the question – How much did the power outages and ancillary damage caused by hurricane Arthur really cost, when extraordinary costs are considered, for example – everything from overtime by NSPI employees, to special contractors, to losses from defrosted fridges, to other personal losses (wages) and the like?
When all of these costs are accumulated the next step would be to estimate what the costs would have likely have been if the damage repair costs and losses had been applied to right of way maintenance prior to the arrival of the storm. A very simple first cost analysis would seem to indicate that we as ratepayers are further subsidizing NSPI by absorbing massive losses (food losses, wage losses, repair costs and so on) as a result of unacceptable right of way maintenance practices on their part. Trying to get a handle upon these numbers is very difficult but not impossible and I certainly wish the Public Utilities Review Board well in their recently announced endeavours in this regard.
At one time not that long ago; the Shelburne Power Corp depot had 5 full time staff for the express purpose of clearing and maintaining distribution line right of ways. In addition, there were three trucks and their staff stationed here that also did right of way maintenance when required. Today there is neither staff nor trucks at the Shelburne depot. I am sure the savings of 8 full time staff and 3 line trucks, summed over 20 or so years is pretty impressive when applied to the bottom line. Unfortunately it is more than paid for by the losses accrued by those who are forced to use the power utilities services. For example just imagine what it costs to restock a Sobeys’s store after a three day power outage.
What is even more worrisome is the demonstrated fact that the present utility has difficulty attempting to manage a simple distribution utility – then what is it going to do with the proposed multi-billion dollar Muskrat Falls system when it comes on line. We can only hope that the Public Utilities Review Board will be able to manage their responsibly for which they will be held accountable.