LETTER: BC Hydro says thank you to Island communities for patience after storm

On Thursday, Dec. 20, a significant windstorm hit Vancouver Island

To the Editor,

On Thursday, Dec. 20, a significant windstorm hit Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the Lower Mainland, and the Fraser Valley. It was the most damaging storm in our company’s history, and we want to thank our customers for their patience as we worked to repair the significant damage and bring everyone’s power back safely.

A total of 756,000 customers were impacted, making it larger than the August 2015 windstorm that affected the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley, and larger than the 2006 windstorm that hit Vancouver Island and devastated Stanley Park in Vancouver.

Part of the reason this storm was so significant was that it came after a period of heavy rain that saturated the ground, which affected the stability of trees and soil. When the winds hit, they were very strong, measuring over 100 km/h in several areas. This added to the impact, particularly in the Gulf Islands where the storm hit the hardest.

Local crews were well-prepared and positioned to respond quickly to this event. In addition, we brought in extra crews from around the province, as well as support from Alberta and the East Coast to speed restoration. With more than 900 people working to bring the power on, we were able to restore 73% of affected customers – around 554,000 – in the first 24 hours after the storm hit.

But for the remainder of customers who were out longer, this was a difficult and challenging event, especially hitting as it did over the holiday period.

The reason for the longer restoration times was due to the amount of the damage that we were facing. Fallen trees and vegetation made many roads impassable and access difficult. In several remote areas, we were only able to complete damage assessments by helicopter or plane, causing it to take multiple days to understand what repairs would be required.

Those repairs were significant. The storm damaged more than 1,900 spans of wire (about 86 kilometres, longer than the distance between Vancouver and Abbotsford), 360 poles, 700 cross-arms, and 228 transformers. On Salt Spring Island alone, more than 500 spans of wire came down and needed to be replaced.

Over the course of the storm, our crews had around 5,000 individual work orders or trouble calls to dispatch, including outages, downed wires, and trees on our lines. For comparison, we typically see around 300 trouble calls in an average storm event. These repairs were made more challenging in the locations where damage was the worst.

While we’re proud of how our crews responded and the quick restoration for many of our customers who were affected, the storm brings lessons for us to consider. For example, we heard from many of you who had challenges reporting downed lines in your community, and that’s something we will be taking away as an area to improve.

We know that the longer outages that many of our customers experienced during this event were inconvenient and for many stressful, given the season. On behalf of BC Hydro, I want to thank all our customers for their understanding and patience as we worked to bring power back safely to everyone impacted by this storm.

I also want to thank the many partners who supported us during this event, from the first responders to helped keep communities safe, to all the local businesses that provided accommodations and food for our crews.

Chris O’Riley,

president and COO,

BC Hydro

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