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Here and There: Thoughts from the beaver induced power outage

Posted on June 1, 2017 by Maple Creek

By Dominique Liboiron

Fire and brimstone! Well not exactly. It was more like no lights and high wind. The recent power outage brought on by our national rodent and last week’s high velocity winds got me thinking about electricity. More to the point, both events made me question how electricity is produced and delivered in this province.

Generally speaking, I’m satisfied with the reliability of our power grid. Delays are handled promptly and what outages we have generally don’t last long.

However, as we experienced May 27, it doesn’t take much to knock out a large chunk of the power grid. Fortunately, perhaps even very fortunately, a similar multi-hour shutdown didn’t occur during a winter storm or when temperatures were far below zero.

If you haven’t heard, or if you struggle to believe it’s true, a beaver is indeed to blame for the blackout. It chewed through a power pole, which then toppled.

The incident happened in a marsh and this complicated the repairs for the SaskPower crew sent to fix the problem.

As for last week’s wind, the potential for power generation was enormous, if only for a few days. The windstorm and the blackout brought to mind stories I’ve heard from yesteryear when wind generated electricity was common on farms before the grid was extended to rural Saskatchewan. When a beaver single-handedly cuts service to thousands of customers, I can’t help but think generating power on your property has certain advantages.

Nonetheless, I think the grid is here to stay, despite its fragility. Although the provincial government has stated it’s not interested in promoting more wind development and continues to pin its economic hopes on the stumbling oil and gas sector this isn’t the case in many other jurisdictions. In fact, Texas is embracing wind technology. Yes, of all places, the Lone Star State is becoming a leader in green energy and this is boosting their economy.

There are already 11,500 wind turbines in the oil-rich state that provide almost 13 per cent of Texas’ electricity. In case you suspect this is just a fad, that percentage has been growing for a decade.

Closer to home, Alberta is looking to wind-generated electricity, and has a sizeable wind farm close to Medicine Hat in the works, but construction isn’t set to begin for a few more years. There are also proposals on the table for projects at Oyen and Forty Mile County.

It’s hard to argue against clean energy such as wind. Whether from an environmental, social or military point of view, oil is expensive, and I don’t just mean in terms of dollars and cents. Speaking of which, I will acknowledge a valid point the oil industry has in its favour – the wages. There are many well paying jobs in the patch. However, the men and women who work on power lines are very well-paid, too.

What’s happening in Alberta and Texas is part of a worldwide trend. More and more countries are turning away from carbon-emitting sources of energy. Germany is a leader in this, but even England, the birthplace of the coal-fired industrial revolution, is reducing its dependence on fossil fuels. This April, in what was described as a watershed moment, the British produced electricity over a 24-hour period without burning coal. That hadn’t happened in 135 years. Britain’s government is striving to stop using the substance to make power by 2025.

As for us in Saskatchewan, I think we will eventually join the trend and see more renewable sources of energy, but not just from wind. After all, it doesn’t make sense to put all your eggs in one basket and rely on wind in a changing climate. That being said, it will be a while before the political will to turn to clean energy exists.

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