Councillor’s update on power outages affecting Ward 9

Due to the recent power outages that have hit parts of Ward 9, and in light of the fact that several parts of Ward 9 continue to experience power outages more frequently and with greater severity than much of the rest of the city, I felt it was important to bring you up to date on what I know and what is being done. I have gathered information from Hydro Ottawa and from residents, and I am working with my office on a strategy for moving forward.  

But first, it bears repeating that, given the reality of a changing climate, we must all expect an increase in extreme weather events, and to prepare ourselves accordingly. Just today, a tornado touched down in Barrhaven and my own family in Arlington Woods took cover in the basement while warnings blared on the television. While there is a lot of work to be done to make our city and our electrical grid more resilient, there is only so much that either the City of Ottawa or Hydro Ottawa can do prepare against events like a tornado. So, regardless of the city’s response, it’s critical that residents across the city learn how to increase our own personal resilience against severe storms and the outages that frequently result from them. And so I encourage all households to prepare an emergency kit to help them through the first 72 hours during of any potential outage.    

Two Recent Outages 

Here is what I know about the two recent power outages that affected the Fisher Heights / Skyline areas of Ward 9:  

On July 9th at approximately 10:00am, an outage occurred in the Fisher Heights / Skyline area that initially impacted 1,712 customers. Please note: a “customer” represents an address. An apartment building would count as a single customer, as would a detached home. And so, 1,712 customers typically represent far more than 1,712 people. This was certainly the case on July 9th, as many of the “customers” included apartment buildings along Meadowlands.  

For the July 9th outage, Hydro Ottawa notified my office of the situation via email, and the situation was communicated to residents via Twitter, as well as on the Hydro Ottawa Outage Map.   

Over the course of the day, the number of customers without power decreased. Once Hydro Ottawa crews have isolated the cause of the outage, they begin the process of re-energizing lines in a methodical and safe manner, until power is fully restored. By 3:00pm, the number of impacted customers had decreased from 1,712 customers to 720. By approximately 6:00pm power had been fully restored across the ward.  

The initial explanation for the cause of this outage was that it was “equipment related”. Nothing else was communicated publicly. As your Councillor, I have open lines of communication with senior leadership at Hydro Ottawa, and so I sought out more info.  

On July 10th I spoke to senior leadership at Hydro Ottawa where I learned that the cause of the July 9th outages was a broken cross-arm on a hydro pole, which was in a residential backyard. The “cross-arm” is the horizontal bar that sits atop the T-shaped pole. These arms are made either of wood or of metal. When the cross-arm on this specific pole broke, it caused a break in the power line, which led to the outage.  

I’ve asked Hydro Ottawa to let me know if the cross-arm had broken due to age, or tree damage. They have not yet answered, but a local resident shared with me that they had heard about the cross arm having “rotted”. I will try to confirm if this is true, because it’s important to know whether the infrastructure in this area old and past its life cycle, or if it has simply sustained damage due to wind events.  

I’ve also asked Hydro Ottawa to share the location of this damaged pole (even just the postal code), because it may be helpful in ascertaining the age of infrastructure in that area, but it’s also important for us to understand how one single damaged asset can lead to an outage that crosses over so many neighbourhoods.  

On July 13th at approximately 9:30am, there was another outage in the Fisher Heights area, but initially affecting a much smaller number of residents. Initially, it was reported that 63 customers were impacted. At 1:30pm, there were reports of two separate outages in the same general area of Fisher Heights, affecting a total of 1,590 customers. At this moment, and without further info from Hydro Ottawa, I am unsure if these two outages are connected. By 3:30pm, the Outage Map was still reporting one outage in Fisher Heights affecting 11 customers. 

From the reports I’ve received from Hydro Ottawa, as well as from what’s been relayed to me by residents in the affected area who spoke to response crews, the outage that began at 9:30am was a “planned outage”. This outage was scheduled in order for crews to safety perform an emergency tree removal in the backyard of a house on Sunnycrest Drive. Hydro Ottawa has assured me that all impacted customers were notified of this planned outage in advance. I will attempt to verify this, but I can confirm that my office received no notice.  

I also received messages from residents in this area at around 11:00am who reported hearing "a loud bang”, which we believe is attributed to a blown transformer. and contrary to what Hydro Ottawa said at one point, this blown transformer had nothing to do with the thunderstorm that took place that day, as the "loud bang" took place at least 90 minutes before the storm passed over this area.

Power was fully restored by 5:00pm on July 14th, which means this small area was without power for over 24 hours.

Until we hear otherwise, my office is assuming that these two outages (one on Sunnycrest and one on Lyall) are separate incidents, even though they occurred just a few blocks from each other.  

Next Steps 

While it is very likely that the ongoing labour strike by Hydro Ottawa workers affected the length of these outages this does take away from the fact that there are far too many outages impacting Ward 9. And another resident informed us about another outage on July 5th that affected residents in the Meadowlands area.

One thing is for certain: we need to understand what’s happening in Ward 9 when it comes to the frequency and severity of outages. The abnormally high frequency of outages is undeniable (especially considering the July 9th outage happened on a perfectly calm, sunny day). And although these recent outages might not be considered “severe” (either in terms of duration or number of customers impacted), there have been several episodes in recent years where the duration of the outage affecting parts of Ward 9 lasted far longer than other parts of the city. We need to understand why this is happening, and we need a plan to address it. The residents of Ward 9 are perfectly reasonable when they send me emails detailing just how exasperated they are about this situation, because it happens to them far too often.  

What’s the cause? Is it because our area is more prone to extreme weather? Is it because the infrastructure is too vulnerable due to age? Is it because the maintenance and/or outage response procedure has flaws? We simply don’t know, even though we’ve been asking all the right questions.  

Thankfully, Hydro Ottawa has been more open to our concerns, and we do have open lines of communication. And I believe that they are prepared to confirm that Ward 9 is among the hardest-hit areas of the city. Because it’s certainly not just Ward 9, but there’s definitely a pattern emerging of severe impacts affecting many parts of Nepean: in Ward 9 (Knoxdale-Merivale), in Ward 8 (College Ward), and in Ward 16 (River Ward). These are all older, established areas, with older infrastructure. We don’t know if this is the main cause, but it’s something worth exploring.  

To this end, I’ve been collaborating with a small group of councillors – Councillor Johnson (Ward 8), Councillor Brockington (Ward 16) and Councillor Hill (Ward 3) – as an informal “working group” to try to come up with answers and solutions. 

Here are some of the next steps that I’ll be advancing:  

  • I am looking to get more detailed, technical explanations of the July 9th and July 13th outages 
  • I will be asking for historical information on significant outages since the 2018 tornado, to determine the level to which Ward 9 has been affected in comparison with other areas of the city 
  • I’ll be working with Councillor Hill over the course of the summer to research and prepare questions for Hydro Ottawa when they present their Annual Report to Council in Fall 2023  
  • I’m working with Hydro Ottawa on some “town hall” meetings in Fall 2023 to meet with residents and communicate about specific electrical infrastructure issues affecting Ward 9 
  • I have begun conversations with Hydro Ottawa about the medium-term prospects to explore burying power lines in this affected area 
  • As I continue to advance my project to revitalize Merivale Road, I will ensure that the modernization of the electrical infrastructure along Merivale is taken into consideration alongside any planning for road infrastructure  

Please rest assured that I am completely aware of the level of frustration being experienced by residents in Ward 9, and my team and I are focused on improving the situation. If you have questions or concerns, please email my team at [email protected] 

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