Achieving Excellence in Reliability

July 4, 2016

Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro improves reliability of its electricity supply through focused outage management

Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON June 23, 2016 A reliable electricity supply is an essential part of a thriving community. Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro (NOTL) takes its responsibility of maintaining that supply seriously and has been actively engaged in an outage management program that has seen the number of outages and the duration of those outages consistently reduced over the past several years.

“Outages can be caused by various reasons such as high winds, fallen tree branches, ice accumulation, lightning and equipment failure,” said Tim Curtis, President, Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro. “Our goal is to make our system as robust and flexible as possible so that our customers have power during even the most adverse events.”

Multiple initiatives are required to keep the complex electrical distribution system able to respond to changing customer demands and the changing environmental stressors. To ensure the robustness of the NOTL system, the Operations staff has focused on a number of initiatives.

·         Leveraging Technology. Smart switches have been installed on the long feeder lines that supply the Old Town area. If a line is down due to any of the reasons mentioned above, the switches automatically re-direct the electricity to a second feeder to keep businesses and residents supplied with electricity. These switches also help sectionalize an area of outage so a minimum number of customers are affected. A plan has been approved to install more of these smart switches in other parts of the service territory. 

To ensure power is restored as quickly as possible, NOTL Hydro has installed automatic reclosers at its connection points with the transmission grid. These restore power once a momentary fault, such as a lightning or tree branch making contact with a line, has been cleared.

·         Infrastructure Renewal. An aggressive capital program has been implemented for several years to upgrade the distribution system to a higher voltage at the same time as older poles are replaced. The end result is a reduction in electricity losses and a stronger infrastructure to withstand  exposure to the elements. In addition, a long term program to replace the aging overhead pole lines with underground cables in the Old Town will maintain the ambiance of the historic Old Town as well as increase reliability in this high treed area. The long roll out is due to the significantly higher cost of installing underground infrastructure.

·         On-going Tree Trimming Program. Fallen branches are one of the top causes of outages. The NOTL service area is divided into three sections with tree trimming done in one section per year. The three year cycle ensures adequate clearances from the electrical lines while maintaining the health of the trees.  Ongoing trimming is done as required in areas identified by regular inspections.

·         An Outage Management System. A new Outage Management System automatically alerts line crews when an outage occurs through the use of smart meter data. In some instances, crews have been onsite and fixed the fault before customers have been aware there is a problem. The outage data populates a map for the Customer Service staff to help them respond to customer inquiries about the estimated time for power restoration.

·         Outage Updates.  For outages larger than 50 customers, notifications are sent out on Twitter, Facebook and the NOTL website to inform customers an outage has occurred. On-going updates are provided on the NOTL twitter feed as details of the outage and the expected time of power restoration are received.

“We take our communications very seriously, and actively post on social media during outages,” said Hassan Syed, VP of Operations at NOTL.  “We encourage our customers to inform us if their power goes out so we can ensure power is restored to the entire system as soon as possible.”

·         Dedicated Maintenance Program. NOTL has a strong maintenance program of its substations, transformers and switchgear to limit outages caused by equipment failure. The recent refurbishment of the NOTL transformer station with a new 50 MVA transformer ensures the local utility has the most up-to-date technology and equipment to distribute electricity.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro has an impressive track record of outage reduction, both in the number of outages and their duration. Going forward, NOTL will continue to support the economic and social success of the community through the maintenance of a safe and reliable electrical distribution system.

“We can’t control natural events but we can mitigate their effects by continuously updating and maintaining our system and making it smarter,” said Curtis. “Along with the lowest electricity distribution rates in Niagara and an office open to customers, outage management is one of the ways in which we provide the best service possible to our customers.”

Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro distributes safe, reliable electricity to close to 9,000 customers in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Its mission is to provide efficient delivery of electricity to its customers, maximum value to its shareholder the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and to be one of Ontario’s top performing distribution companies in customer service and reliability. The local utility is a member of Cornerstone Hydro Electric Concepts (CHEC), an association of 15 Ontario LDCs that share resources and best practices to provide efficient and cost-effective electricity to their customers.