NB Power improves tree clearing, emergency response and communications following storm review
NB Power is investing $5.8 million this year in the annual preventative maintenance program that clears low-hanging branches and trees from around power lines and strengthens the grid's reliability.
The utility will expand the program further in 2016 and 2017 and is conducting a pilot project with new technology to make vegetation management programs more effective in the future.
NB Power's tree-trimming program was one of three areas identified for improvement in an internal review conducted in the months following the December 2013 ice storms, Ice Storm Outages, Lessons Learned 2013-2014. The repeated storms caused 88,000 NB Power customers in southern and central New Brunswick to lose electricity during an 11-day period.
'Our responsibility is to provide the most reliable grid possible and these investments are intended to reinforce the excellent reliability we already have,' said NB Power president and chief executive officer Gaëtan Thomas. He spoke during a demonstration of safe tree pruning near power lines in Rothesay, where he was joined by Mayor Bill Bishop. Rothesay was among the hardest-hit communities during the December storms.
'Trees make our province a beautiful place to live, but they are also the leading cause of power outages in New Brunswick,' said Thomas. 'Trees and branches falling into power lines during severe weather caused about 30 per cent of unplanned outages during the last two years.'
The review outlines three key areas for improvement:
- Vegetation Management
- Testing the use of LiDAR technology to efficiently identify where trees have the potential to come into contact with power lines. This remote-sensing technology measures the distance between trees and power lines by illuminating a target with a laser and analyzing the reflected light. This will provide real-time reporting on which power lines are at risk of having contact with trees.
- Increasing the budget and reviewing tree maintenance processes to maximize investment.
- Improving the communication with property owners who are affected by tree-trimming, including a more informative, user-friendly website.
- Emergency Preparedness
- Updating NB Power's emergency plan, and exercising it regularly to improve internal storm readiness.
- Improving emergency response through process improvements.
- Providing improved information on estimated times of power restoration online, with outage mapping functionality and better communications to help customers understand how and why priorities are set in restoring power.
Work has already begun on many of these enhancements. In addition, some key lessons from the December storms were immediately integrated into practice, which supported NB Power's performance during a second serious storm that caused widespread power outages in southeastern New Brunswick on March 31.
'I am proud of the incredible work our employees did this winter to restore power to New Brunswickers,' said Thomas. 'I am equally proud to present this report as further commitment to our efforts to improve service. We know that as a utility, we have a lot of good lessons to learn from these storms and we have taken action to minimize the impact of similar events in the future.'