St. Norbert outage: behind the scenes

This article was published in February 2023 and may be outdated.

On the evening of Sunday, Jan. 29, a power outage hits 1,700 customers in St. Norbert. It’s below −30°C with windchill, and it’s our job to get the power back on as quick as safely possible.

Dispatch calls up a crew of power line technicians and they meet at the closest station to come up with a plan. They split up to find the issue and find a burnt wire in two locations that are inaccessible by bucket truck.

It’s not going to be an easy fix.

Utility poles in a field with snow.

Hydro poles in St. Norbert near the site of the outage – no road access for a bucket truck.

Enlarge image: Utility poles in a field with snow.

“This was one of the toughest nights of my career,” said Harry Nott (Distribution Operations & Maintenance – Winnipeg). “The trouble was access. Ideally you do this type of work with a bucket truck. Here we had to trudge through the snow with all our gear to the damaged wire to climb the pole and make repairs in the bitter cold.”

Two Twitter users discuss strategies of staying warm.

Customers on social media share their frustrations (and tips) of not having power.

Enlarge image: Two Twitter users discuss strategies of staying warm.

The estimated time for restoration is pushed back so customers can prepare for power being out longer. Still, the frigid conditions cause delays as some tools freeze up and the dexterity work takes longer.

Power is briefly restored at midnight, but upon energizing, a splice in another wire lets go and crews determine it needs to be repaired now. The estimated time for full restoration is pushed back again. Fortunately, the crew is able to get a bucket truck into the new location.

“From the top of the pole you can literally see the whole community out of power, so it’s motivating to get it back on,” said Harry.

Frozen and tired, they finish repairs and power is restored to chunks of customers at a time to avoid overloading the system all at once. 9.5 hours later, we have full restoration at 2:36 a.m.

A man’s beard full of ice.

Jeff Douglas’ frosty face at the end of the outage restoration.

Enlarge image: A man’s beard full of ice.

Also on scene or involved were Dustin Schurhoff, Mike Sumka, Brennan Cox, Steve Basler, Jeff Douglas, Don Parsons, Chad Cormier, Dylan Morriseau (all Distribution Operations & Maintenance – Winnipeg), Dave Lussier (Transmission Operations & Maintenance), and Kevin Dunn (Operations Support Services).

Although this was a tough one, Harry is keen to mention this is the type of thing our crews regularly do. Another big outage happened on Monday in Carberry where crews had to brave the cold to restore power, and staff are doing the same for smaller outages every day and night, no matter the weather.