NEWS

Toronto Hydro customers gripe about being left in the dark

07/10/2013 01:27 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT
Frustration is mounting among a pocket of up to 10,000 Toronto Hydro customers whose homes and businesses have been without power for more than 40 hours after the city was drenched by a record rainstorm this week.

But the municipality's electricity distribution company says it still doesn't know exactly when their homes and offices will get the lights back on and air-conditioners running.

The affected customers, most of whom are based in the west end, are demanding better information from Toronto Hydro as they face the prospect of food spoiling inside darkened refrigerators and problems charging their cellphones.

A Twitter user, @Peter_Truck, expressed concern online for an elderly family member: "My 90 year old mother in law who lives by herself in southwest Toronto has been without hydro for two days now," he wrote.

Another resident, Brigid Towler, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning she was getting antsy for updates.

"At this point, after 38 hours, we're just counting down and wishing we had some answers," she told host Matt Galloway.

Towler, whose condo building is at Windemere and Queensway, said she is keen to get back home to empty out the refrigerator "for the sake of our nostrils."

5,000-1,000 customers without power

"We want it clean, we want to shower, we want to do stuff," she said, adding that she would have preferred to be part of an area of the city undergoing rolling blackouts.

As of 11:30 a.m., Hydro One has confirmed that between 9,000 customers are without power, down from 16,000 earlier this morning.

Aside from physical comfort, Towler said one of the challenging parts about the prolonged lack of electricity has been with information-gathering, particularly amidst spotty cellphone service, drained batteries on mobile devices and difficulties connecting to the internet.

"If we could just get a better idea of when we could get power back, that would be great," she said.

Unfortunately, that may be too much to ask for, according to Toronto Hydro.

Some customers in 'stranded' area

Blair Peberdy, vice-president of corporate communications for Toronto Hydro, explained that the fluidity of the situation makes it very difficult to give customers a proper head's up about when power could return.

"Hydro One lets us know with relatively short notice that they need, say, 200 megawatts reduced in a certain part of town by a certain time, usually within an hour or half an hour," he said. "Then, Toronto workers with Hydro One figure out how to get that load reduction, hopefully without hitting critical infrastructure such as subways, streetcars, hospitals...So it's happening very, very quickly and that's why we're not able to give this advance notice."

As for customers who may be confused with why their homes are powerless when their neighbours' houses appear fine, Peberdy said the grid was designed to serve pieces of the same neighbourhood with different electricty "feeders" in order to avoid overloading.

"Brigid, unforunately, is in an area of Toronto that's stranded," he said.

That's because while there are two major electricity transmission stations for Toronto — one from the east, one from the west — the Manby Transformer Station serving the west failed due to the flooding.

150 megawatts saved not enough

With the Manby station crippled, supplies were cut to 17 hydro transformer stations in the east, south and midtown areas.

Peberdy, who was personally without power for 18 hours, said Toronto Hydro is working to transfer the load from Manby to other stations. As a result, however, the Richview and Leaside stations are also beginning to overload as temperatures rise.

He added that commercial buildings yesterday saved about 150 megawatts by reducing consumption, but that still wasn't enough to relieve the strain on the grid.

Toronto Hydro is also experiencing its own technical difficulties. Due to the amount of outages, its own online Outage Map is unavailable. A Google blackout map using crowdsourced information with Toronto Hydro data has been created, although the information could be incomplete.

Peberdy said Toronto Hydro is doing its best to distribute information and updates using as many communications channels as possible.

"We've been using Twitter, we have our communications officers on call 24/7 talking to mainstream media through social media, call centres talking to people," he said. "But it's extremely difficult when you've got thousands of people without power, to get to all of them."

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