Manitoba Hydro facing reconstruction of parts of electrical system

Full restoration to all customers may take more than a week — Partner utilities respond to State of Emergency

This article was published in October 2019 and may be outdated.

The full extent of damage to Manitoba Hydro’s transmission and distribution system from the week’s unprecedented winter storm is now being realized, as the utility continues its damage assessments today.

In addition to multiple collapsed steel towers on the transmission system, more than 1,000 wood poles have been confirmed broken and in need of replacement in the Interlake, with another 1,000 broken poles needing replacement in the areas around Portage la Prairie.

Despite significant progress in restoring electrical service to customers across southern Manitoba, including Winnipeg, as of 10 a.m. Monday, approximately 20,000 customers in the province were without power, including many customers in the City of Portage la Prairie and a number of remote Indigenous communities, and approximately 800 in the City of Winnipeg.

“This is damage on a scale never before seen in Manitoba,” said Jay Grewal, President and CEO of Manitoba Hydro. “And it doesn’t account for the additional damage we are likely to find once repairs begin. Our construction staff estimate that we may find almost another 1,000 poles that are damaged and need replacement.”

Damage assessment and preparation for significant restoration work continued today with access now available to previously inaccessible areas. Manitoba Hydro crews are now compiling lists of supplies and hardware needed to restore service and make permanent repairs. In some areas rebuilds of entire parts of the electrical system are required. In addition, the utility used two helicopters to perform aerial line patrols to catalogue the damage to its distribution and transmission systems. Areas hardest hit include the regions around Portage la Prairie, Neepawa, Dauphin, Ashern, and Arborg.

“Unfortunately, full restoration to all customers in those hardest hit areas will likely not be complete for a period of seven to 10 days,” said Grewal. We know the dangers these outages can cause to public and personal safety. We know the disruptions they cause to our customers’ daily lives and economic hit to the agriculture community. I wish I had better news to share.”

In Winnipeg, work to restore remaining customers in hardest hit areas has been slowed by the high number of down trees. Trees and large branches must be removed before assessment and repair can begin. Customers without power Monday may be without service for up to four more days as crews essentially work door-to-door bringing on individual customers.

To address widespread outages a State of Emergency was declared by the Province of Manitoba on Sunday, which allowed Manitoba Hydro to invoke mutual aid agreements in place with neighbouring utilities who are now sending materials, equipment and personnel to Manitoba to aid in the reconstruction and restoration efforts. This is the first time Manitoba Hydro has ever invoked a request for mutual aid from other utilities. This is an indication of the unprecedented level of damage done to the province’s electrical grid.

“With the ground so wet from the rain and melting snow, we need specialized equipment in order to be able to access many areas where our lines are located,” said Grewal. “While Manitoba Hydro has a lot of this equipment already, the scale of damage means we need even more. And our neighbours have responded, for which we and our customers are extremely grateful.”

So far, Saskatchewan Power Corporation is sending five diggers, two bucket trucks, and one tracked crane, along with 21 staff to operate the equipment and assist Manitoba Hydro crews working in the Portage, Neepawa, and Dauphin areas. Hydro One in Ontario is providing several pieces of equipment, like tracked diggers, bucket trucks, and service vehicles, along with 20 staff to assist Manitoba Hydro crews in Arborg and other areas of the Interlake.

Help is even coming from south of the border. Minnesota Power is providing tracked equipment and 14 staff to assist with restoration efforts in the areas around Portage la Prairie.

“So much of the damages in the hardest hit areas aren’t simple repairs,” added Grewal. “We are talking about having to rebuild miles of distribution lines, and rebuild sections of our transmission network, including enormous steel towers. The work will continue even after customers are restored, as we make temporary repairs to restore service as quick as possible before beginning work on permanent fixes. Make no mistake, this is a very serious situation.”

Do not use fuel-burning equipment for heating

Manitoba Hydro is reminding customers to never use portable fuel-burning equipment - generators, patio heaters, barbecues or camp stoves - inside your home for heating.

Fuels from these (natural gas, wood, propane, oil, gasoline, diesel, coal or kerosene) create Carbon Monoxide (CO) – a highly toxic gas that makes you sick and can cause death.

The utility also reminds customers with portable generators to never run them in a house, garage, or other enclosed building due to the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always run them outside, and plug your critical appliances directly in the generator using an extension cord. Do not connect the generator to your house wiring as electricity could flow back to our grid, endangering Manitoba Hydro crews working to restore service in your area.

Grewal said the support from customers as the utility works through the restoration is nothing short of amazing.

“On this Thanksgiving Weekend, when so many lives have been disrupted, I know I speak for all of us when I say I sincerely appreciate your patience as we work through this disaster,” said Grewal. “Your response and the warmth shown to our crews is incredible during a time when I know it’s been a very real challenge, and many of you feel as if you’re at the end of your rope.

“Please know the staff at Manitoba Hydro are committed to get your power back as soon as we can. We thank you for your support and patience.”

Manitoba Hydro asks customers to only call the utility’s Contact Centre in the event of a downed line or other serious emergency to minimize wait time for emergency service response. Customers can get the latest information on power outages and report them online from their smart phones.

Customers can refer to the Manitoba Hydro website for tips on how to prepare for a power outage.

They can also follow Manitoba Hydro on social media:

For more information, please contact:

Bruce Owen – Media Relations Officer
Cell. 204-794-8270

Scott Powell — Director, Corporate Communications
Cell. 204-299-8849