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‘It's come down significantly’: Innisfil residents spending less time in the dark as utility upgrades

NEWS Sep 18, 2019 by Shane MacDonald Innisfil Journal

Danny Persaud (left), chief operating officer, and Aaron Kaasalainen, power and control technologist, in the InnPower control room. - Shane MacDonald/Torstar

Maintaining Innisfil’s electricity utility is a bit like maintaining a vehicle.

When it acts up, you diagnose the problem and replace the faulty equipment, and, with each upgrade, the system gets a little more efficient.

InnPower probably experiences more tree-related issues than your vehicle, but you get the idea.

Since 2017, when customers experienced an average of 1.54 hours of power interruption, the town’s electricity distributor has made several improvements to reduce the amount of time residents spend in the dark.

In the first three quarters of 2018, InnPower customers experienced an average of 2.44 hours of power interruption. Over the same period in 2019, they experienced an average of 0.44 hours of interruption, a reduction of 82 per cent.

Customers also saw 53 per cent fewer major outages, 86 per cent fewer average interruptions, and 86 per cent fewer instances of power flickers over the same period.

“I’d say it's come down significantly, especially since we presented that 2017 scorecard,” Danny Persaud, chief operating officer for InnPower, said of the power interruptions.

Improvements to fault indicators, switches, control systems and outage-response software have all helped make the system more reliable.

But power outages still happen. It comes, literally, with the territory.

“The biggest challenge we’re facing right now is transitioning from a primarily rural utility to an urbanized utility,” Persaud said. “There are a lot of issues with rural utilities, and we are still facing that.”

As a mostly rural area, there are large areas where overhead power lines are susceptible to adverse weather, debris and wildlife, which are common causes of power outages.

“You can see our numbers are correlated to the weather,” said Shannon Brown, vice-president of corporate services for InnPower, noting a large number of outages happened in the summer, when there is more foliage and potential for storms.

About 130 customers in Big Bay Point had their power interrupted when a tree fell on a power line on July 29. Full power was restored within about four hours. - InnPower photo

Old equipment can also cause trouble.

A burned-out switch caused an outage on Sept. 15 that affected 225 customers in the Leonard’s Beach area. Power was restored in a couple of hours.

“We have a lot of older equipment, especially in that area,” Persaud said. “We’re trying to minimize the weak spots in our system, but we’re still going to have these switches we inherited from Ontario Hydro.”

Part of their ongoing improvements is the move to automated switches, at a cost of $50,000 in one year, and the addition of switch faults. Switch faults are physical indicators on the line that alert crews of an outage and help diagnose the issue more quickly.

“We’re able to better triangulate the issue to minimize outage times,” Persaud said. “Otherwise, it’s a needle in a haystack.”

When it comes to dollars and cents, InnPower customers have often paid more than other Ontario residents, another byproduct of the size of Innisfil, but Persaud said he thinks the utility is doing a great job today.

“I think they get a lot of value for money,” he said.

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