Power outage blankets northwest Saskatchewan

by Phil Ambroziak

While it wasn’t nearly as serious as the major blackout experienced in Meadow Lake and the surrounding area last June, the power outage that impacted communities across the Northwest May 7 was enough of a reminder for some people of how often the lights go out in this part of the province.

“It’s frustrating, it’s terrible,” remarked Nancy Stevenot, an employee at the Nor’Wester Motor Inn in Meadow Lake. “I don’t know what the issues are because you never usually hear any reason as to why it goes out so often. I’ve been here for eight years and was always used to the power going out once or twice per year, but here it can be five to 10 times per summer.”

Last Tuesday around 4:55 p.m., the entire region – ranging from Meadow Lake to Loon Lake in the west, Green Lake in the east and as far north as Clearwater River Dene Nation and beyond – lost power when a relay at the Meadow Lake switching system malfunctioned and could no longer maintain the proper voltage level. Electricity was restored locally by 8 p.m. with complete restoration by 10:30 p.m.

In spite of the outage, Stevenot did confirm the Nor’Wester remained open, a luxury not all businesses have when an outage lasts for any lengthy period of time.

“We always stay open when the power is out because we have all our tills and debit machines rigged up to an internal power source,” she said. “We can only run about half the things in our kitchen and not everything on our menu is likely to be available, but at least people can still stop by and have a meal.”

During last week’s outage, Stevenot said close to 10 customers frequented the restaurant.

One business that was forced to close, at least for part of the evening, was the Dynasty Twin Cinemas. Theatre manager Jeff McCallum said there’s no alternative power source to operate the theatre’s projectors and server.

“It only interrupts the film for 10 minutes if it’s a brownout, but after a long enough outage we need to cancel the show because we can’t start it up and finish it before the next show has to start,” he said. “Power has to come back on with enough time to run an entire show.”

According to SaskPower spokesperson Tyler Hopson, there is one primary line that starts in Meadow Lake and feeds most of the Northwest.

“There are some smaller lines, but this is the main one,” Hopson noted. “Initially, crews were sent out to reset (the relay), but that didn’t work. So, they pulled it out of service and repaired it.”

Although Hopson could not provide specific data for the Meadow Lake area in terms of frequency and causes, he did say outages happen for many reasons.

“It could be the result of weather or an accident, but other times it’s because of problems with equipment due to age or a technical failure,” he said. “We are actually investing in our system and continue to improve things all the time.”

Hopson went on to say both necessary and preventative maintenance is ongoing at a provincial level, adding SaskPower plans to make a $10 billion investment in several areas over the next 10 years.

“Hopefully the people of Meadow Lake and area will experience fewer outages in the future,” he said.

In the meantime, Meadow Lake fire chief Neil Marsh encourages residents to be well prepared for future power outages.

“You should always keep your vehicle topped up with fuel because the pumps won’t work when there’s no power,” he said. “You should also have a water supply on hand because, if the power is out for a lengthy period of time, the water supply in town could become an issue. It’s rare for outages to last long, but it has happened before.”

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