It could take up to four days to restore power to all homes and businesses impacted by the weekend’s devastating storm, a Hydro Ottawa official said on Sunday.
“It gets so complicated trying to figure out what has been impacted right back from the substation out to the lines and out to the residences and the businesses,” Joseph Muglia, director of system operations and grid automation, said during a 4 p.m. press conference.
The city-owned utility is trying to determine how to maximize the number of customers it can safely power up, but it knew that it could take three or four days for all of the city to connect back to the electricity grid.
“We’re really going to focus our efforts on what’s our biggest bang for our buck,” Muglia said.
Hooking up the power isn’t as easy as flicking a switch or reconnecting a wire after untangling it from a knocked-over tree. Muglia said the circuits have to be inspected to avoid more problems once workers energize the infrastructure.
The ferocious storm that blew through the Ottawa region on Saturday afternoon will require a long clean-up effort by city crews, private contractors and ordinary citizens after trees crashed into homes and hydro wires fell when poles toppled over.
There’s damage to properties all over the city.
As of the Sunday press conference, there were still just over 170,000 Hydro Ottawa customers without power, but more properties continued to come back online throughout the day.
“Our efforts are 100 per cent on this restoration. All of our resources are on it,” Muglia said, adding that Hydro Ottawa is bringing in contractors from outside of Ontario to help with the work.
The city revealed that its sewage treatment plant, the Robert O. Pickard Environmental Centre in the east end, didn’t have power and was operating off diesel generators after the storm.
During the press conference, Tammy Rose, the general manager of infrastructure and water services, confirmed the sewage treatment plant was connected to the hydro supply again.
Rose said the generators don’t provide full backup to the sewage treatment process, which includes sending treated wastewater to the Ottawa River.
“We’ve seen a very slow degradation in water quality to the effluent to the river,” Rose said, and it has required the city to notify downstream users and the provincial regulator.
Mayor Jim Watson said there’s no need for the city to declare a state of emergency because it wouldn’t do much help.
In Ontario, the municipal state of emergency is most useful to avoid tendering goods and services when those things are needed right away. The City of Ottawa in recent years has declared a state of emergency for both the trucker occupation and the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the city needs to buy additional equipment, “I would declare it in a minute, but it’s not necessary at this stage,” Watson said.
The city opened emergency centres in several communities so people can charge their electronics or take showers. The city is updating information on its website about services that are available to residents.
Watson said if people don’t have to go out, they should stay at home.
As of Sunday, there were hundreds of traffic lights without power, turning those signalized intersections into four-way stops.
Watson was annoyed by motorists who weren’t treating those intersections like four-way stops, making those areas dangerous for everyone trying to get through them.
“Please don’t be a yahoo and try to cut the line when there’s a four-way stop with the traffic lights not operational,” Watson said.
Watson also expressed frustration that people were criticizing hard-working hydro and city workers, many of whom are in the field when their own families’ homes are without power.
“These crews are working tirelessly and I’m not particularly pleased when I see constant attacks on social media of our hydro crews and first-responders,” Watson said. “They are working their hearts out to make sure we get the power back as quickly as possible, but with over 170,000 customers without power, it can’t all be done within an hour or so.”