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Behind the Scenes of Power Restoration: how we work on continuously getting better

March 29 2021, 10:00 AM

Behind the Scenes of Power Restoration: how we work on continuously getting better

We know how difficult it can be when your power is out. That’s why we continue to look at ways to improve our processes so we can be there for our customers when they need us the most.

NB Power is responsible for making sure customers have the power they need when they need it, in good weather and bad. We take this responsibility very seriously. With more than 20,000 km of distribution lines and close to 7,000 km of transmission lines, our electricity infrastructure covers a vast expanse of terrain.

Our province and our infrastructure is increasingly subject to severe weather brought on by climate change. Hurricanes, ice storms and two of the worst floods in the past 50 years are some of the extreme weather events that New Brunswick has faced in the past decade. As storms become more intense and cause major disruptions in many parts of the province, NB Power’s storm preparedness effort, conducted in collaboration with partners, has taken on greater significance and urgency.

Every year, we collaborate with the province’s Emergency Measures Organization, the Canadian Red Cross, and other partners, to emphasize the importance of being ready for storms for New Brunswickers. This approach is considered a best practice and aligns with provincial and federal agencies who adopted the integrated emergency response model.

We also have an Emergency Response Plan in place. This plan helps to ensure consistent preparedness, response, communications, and recovery practices across our entire organization. This approach in any emergency response is effective, efficient and ensures the safety of customers, employees, contractors, and the public.

Our Emergency Planning Management team is centralized for proactive decision-making and strategic planning ahead of, and during, an event. For each event, we set up local centres in affected regions to monitor outages, realign crews and reduce restoration wait times for customers.

Vegetation management is also an essential part of reliability efforts: pruning trees, removing brush, and clearing power lines help keep them free to deliver safe, reliable electricity. In the last fiscal year, we invested $5.8 million in inspecting and clearing over 1,200 km of distribution lines. We invested a further $4.4 million inspecting over 2,300 km of transmission right of ways and subsequently treating approximately 1,400 kms of those right of ways. In addition, we invested over $62 million in our transmission rebuild program, completing several life extension and storm hardening projects.

Our annual maintenance program also helps identify and respond to issues. 20 per cent of our utility poles are inspected annually, as part of a five-year cycle. A maintenance plan is established for aging poles, and our field crews perform the work to maintain the safe operation of our electrical grid. Every spring a system review of power quality is performed to establish short and long-term goals for our power supply equipment. From the reviews, NB Power then establishes a detailed plan for the following year.

These are just some of the things we do to provide electricity safely, in good weather and bad, for all New Brunswickers.

Safe access to your meter benefits everyone

March 22 2021, 09:15 AM

Safe access to your meter benefits everyone

The best part of Geoff Cowan’s job is getting to spend time outside in his community.

Geoff is a Lead Meter Reader for the Moncton area. He leads a team of employees who take readings of energy consumption on meters as well as installing new meters and doing service and inspections.

The Riverview native joined the NB Power team in 2005 after completing a Bachelor of Business Administration at UNB. After marrying his college sweetheart, Geoff was excited to start a career that included lots of fresh air and opportunities to learn and grow.

Geoff Cowan, Lead Meter Reader

Within urban centres in the province, most residential meters are read with radio frequency devices, which involves an employee traveling through neighbourhoods with a device to gather data from the street. When you get to the suburbs and more rural locations in New Brunswick, we manually read meters up close.

What might sound like a simple task can be complicated by things like locked gates, untethered dogs or construction projects that make it difficult or impossible to get to the meter.

NB Power has started taking inventory of access to residential and business meters and will be working with customers to remove barriers to easy access. This will improve safety and bill accuracy and support routine maintenance and inspections of equipment.

One of the issues Geoff and his team encounter is propane tanks too close to meters. It’s a little-known fact that national safety standards require at least 10 feet between electrical meters and fuel sources.

But Geoff says the biggest challenge for meter readers happens in our long New Brunswick winters.

“It’s not uncommon for our staff to spend hours of their day wading through deep snow to get to meters,” says Geoff. “It’s a really intense workout plus, it’s like walking around blindfolded. You can’t see the hazards lurking under the snow and ice. We have to be very careful not to get injured in the field.”

Geoff says that he always goes out of his way to thank customers who take the time to clear snow and ice to make it safer for him to get to the meter.

“It’s a small gesture that sends a big message,” said Geoff. “I find that many customers haven’t considered doing it and once they do remove the snow and see how much it can help us, they’re happy to help!”

To learn how to make sure your meter is safe and accessible, visit our Meter Safety page.

Engineers driving reliability of generating stations

March 11 2021, 09:37 AM

Engineers driving reliability of generating stations

Did you know that March is National Engineering Month? Throughout our province, NB Power employs more than 350 engineers. These hardworking employees work in our generating facilities and offices, on our distribution and transmission infrastructure and in the field around your communities.

From analyzing the core of a nuclear reactor to helping to develop a new transmission line, engineering at NB Power provides a diverse and exciting career path.

René Paulin is one of two Mechanical Engineers at the Belledune Generating Station, a coal plant in the northern part of the province.

After growing up in Petit-Rocher, René completed a Mechanical Engineering degree at Université de Moncton. During his studies, he worked at Belledune as a summer student and got a taste of what it’s like working in a power plant. After gaining some hands-on job experience after graduation, René accepted an engineering position at NB Power in 2008.

A key member of the operating team for the past decade, René’s days are filled with inspections, problem solving and developing recommendations for the maintenance team to keep the station operating safely and reliably.

The engineering team at Belledune also takes care of work in other locations, such as our Millbank and Ste. Rose combustion units, Nepisiguit Falls hydro station and the Eel River High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) converter station. This means their knowledge covers multiple facilities and types of generation– each presenting its own challenges.

René Paulin, Mechanical Engineer

“Each day is an adventure, and I am fortunate to be able to learn more with every job,” said René. “I really enjoy finding solutions to complex problems – that’s why I became an engineer. My role allows me to work on many different types of equipment and systems, which means lots of variety and interesting work.”

Bernard Roy, Station Manager for Belledune (and fellow engineer!), says that engineers like René have the unique opportunity to learn about different parts of the provincial power grid.

“In French, we would say staff like René are “polyvalent” – which basically means he’s well rounded, and nimble to respond to anything that comes up,” said Bernard. “Our engineers work closely with maintenance teams, work planners and management to help keep all of our assets operating safely and reliably.”

René and his wife live in Bathurst with their two sons. When he’s not working, his family spends a lot of time at local rinks for hockey, and René coaches his sons’ teams. Some of his engineering skills like troubleshooting, time management and collaboration are as handy on the ice as they are at work.

So what’s the best part about being an engineer at NB Power according to René?

“I am fortunate to work alongside some wonderful New Brunswickers,” he said. “The knowledge and talent of my co-workers is second to none. We’re all working together to make sure New Brunswick communities can count on reliable energy to power their homes and businesses.”

Behind the scenes of power restoration

March 3 2021, 09:09 AM

Behind the scenes of power restoration

Have you ever wondered what happens after you call NB Power to report an outage? If it happens during a storm, rest assured that lots of work has already taken place to ensure the duration of the outage is as short as possible for our customers. In this post, and through a series of articles to be featured throughout this month, we will take you behind the scenes of our power restoration efforts.

 

Before the storm

With 20,815 km of line – which is enough to stretch across Canada four times - getting the power back on after a major storm is a big job. That’s why we are constantly monitoring the weather to anticipate storms and we take action before outages happen.

You may be asking yourself; how can you prepare without knowing what will happen? Our team works year-round to minimize the impacts of outages – from equipment maintenance, vegetation management, weather monitoring and software improvements - a whole lot of effort goes into maintaining and restoring power.

We also leverage new technologies to better prepare for storms. Our Transmission and Distribution Field Operations Emergency Planning team constantly monitors the weather, and with the use of various tools, they can assess the estimated number of outages and determine where they will most likely hit.

As soon as we see the potential for outages, we determine if we need to pre-emptively dispatch crews. This is called “staging”. When crews are staged, they are placed in specific areas, and are ready to get to work as soon as it is required.  If we know a big weather event is coming our way, on top of staging our NB Power crews, we secure additional contractor crews in areas throughout the province predicted to experience the worst effects of a storm.

 

During the restoration effort

The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. That’s why, when a storm is still raging and visibility and road conditions are bad, our crews are sometimes not able to get to access the damage immediately. But as soon as it is determined safe, we activate our power restoration plans.

Our goal is always to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. To achieve this, we need to set priorities. During an outage, you may notice that some areas have their power restored before others. This can happen because many different faults can cause an outage. Whenever this happens, NB Power must prioritize which faults will be addressed first.

We direct our resources to address the following issues in order of importance: first, we check the system and repair damage to power plants, transmission lines and substations. Then, we restore power to critical services such as hospitals, police, fire, water and communication systems. At the same time, we determine where we can make repairs that will return service to the largest number of customers in the least amount of time, such as high-density housing and large neighbourhoods. Finally, we restore power to smaller neighbourhoods and individual customers.

During storms, you may be concerned if you don’t see NB Power crews close to your home. That doesn’t mean we are not working on restoring your power. The damage to our distribution system can be far from your neighbourhood, but still impacts it.

Sometimes the cause of an outage may be difficult to locate or access, which can impact the time it takes our teams to restore your power. As soon as our team assesses the cause of an outage and initiates the plan to fix it, our website displays an estimated time when power will be restored. We update those pages with information from the field as soon as it becomes available. In some cases, this means these estimates can change. But our team will continue to work as safely and efficiently as possible until everyone is restored.

Saving Lives, One Donation at a Time

January 21 2021, 09:56 AM

Saving Lives, One Donation at a Time

With a need for blood donations here in New Brunswick and across the country, we wanted to shine a light on employees giving the gift of life through Canadian Blood Services.

The top obstacle for most new blood donors is getting over their fear of needles. When longtime NB Power employee Erik Matchett started giving blood in 2014, he was admittedly a little nervous, too.

“My wife couldn’t believe that I was going to give blood,” Erik says, thinking back to his first donation. “My family thinks of me as kind of a wuss when it comes to pain and gore. But giving blood was no big deal!”

Erik Matchett, a Change Readiness employee in the Fredericton area.

The first donation went well and Erik never looked back. He schedules regular donations and aims to bring a friend or co-worker to each appointment.

 “I feel it’s really important to give back,” says Erik. “Giving blood definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me. It is really meaningful to know that my blood could help save the life of a fellow New Brunswicker. The average donation can save three lives.”

As a Manager in our Learning and Change Team, Erik supports his colleagues with updates impacting people, processes and equipment. As NB Power works to modernize the electrical grid, Erik’s team is busier than ever, helping employees get used to new technologies and ways of doing business.

Similarly, Erik says that Canadian Blood Services is modernizing to keep with the times.

“They’ve developed this great mobile app that allows you to keep track of appointments and urgent needs for donation,” Erik says. “Even cooler is that the app tracks your bleed time – how long it takes to get your donation – so you see friendly little competitions between regular donors.”

Feeling inspired after chatting with Erik about his experience, Marketing and Communications employee Jackie Leger visited blood.ca to check eligibility and register for an upcoming clinic. But when she heard a radio ad over the holidays asking for donors, she moved up her appointment to December 23.

“I was pretty worried about fainting,” said Jackie. “But from the moment I arrived, the staff put me at ease and walked me through the steps. Even with uncooperative veins in my right arm, a talented nurse was able to get the full 450 ml donation from my left arm. It was pretty amazing to watch that bag fill up.”

Jackie Leger, a Marketing and Communications employee in the Saint John area.

From start to finish, Jackie’s first donation took about one hour including assessments, the donation itself and monitoring before heading home. She says she was surprised by how little the donation process hurt.

“The little prick test for hemoglobin hurt way more than the big needle,” she says. “I felt a little less energetic than normal in the hours after my donation, but more than anything I felt proud and happy to know my blood will help those in need. It is such a quick and easy way to help others – I’m not sure why I waited so long to do it!”

Erik and Jackie have already scheduled their next donations and are challenging other colleagues to join them. While COVID-19 has impacted donation levels, they both felt very safe with the screening measures and enhanced safety protocols to keep donors, staff and volunteers safe.

If you’re interested in giving blood, visit blood.ca today to find a location near you!

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