Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for September 20, 2012

Woes began with a toppled tree near Kulan

Exactly what caused Northwestel Inc. to lose its entire communication system following a power outage last night is still unknown, says company vice-president Curtis Shaw.

By Chuck Tobin on September 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm


Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Left: INVESTIGATION PENDING – Northwestel vice-president Curtis Shaw said this morning his company wasn’t yet sure what happened with its back-up power system that knocked out communications for the entire Yukon at around 4 a.m., but staff will find out. Centre: DWIGHT REDDEN Right: FALLEN TREE – Yukon Energy supervisor Lawrence Joudry said a tree falling on the main transmission line shut down the entire grid last night at 11:00. Power was fully restored to the grid by about 4 a.m.

Exactly what caused Northwestel Inc. to lose its entire communication system following a power outage last night is still unknown,  says company vice-president Curtis Shaw.

“I never remember a land line failure before,” Shaw told a press conference late this morning. “And I have been here 17 years.”

Shaw explained it’s pretty routine for Northwestel’s automatic back-up system to switch to batteries and diesel generation during a power outage, and then back again to regular power when it returns.

When a fallen tree in Whitehorse knocked out the power at 11:10 p.m., the system moved to the back-up batteries and generator as normal, but for a slight issue with the diesel generator that was fixed by a technician called in between midnight and 1 a.m.

But as Yukon Energy was nearing the end of restoring power to the last sections on the grid at about 4 a.m., Northwestel’s system shut down, the vice-president said.

Shaw explained cellular and land line service initially started to come back at about 9:20 a.m., and the 911 emergency service was restored at 9:45 a.m.

As of 11 a.m., all but 600 of the land lines in the Yukon were operational, though the Internet feed was still down at 12:45 this afternoon.

Yukon Energy supervisor Lawrence Joudry said a fallen tree on the main transmission line near the Kulan industrial park caused the blackout.

Staff knew the approximate location of the problem last night and a helicopter flight pinpointed the spot at about 9:30 this morning.

Crews were out last night but there’s only so much you can do in rough terrain in the dark, he said.

Joudry said the fallen tree caused a fault that knocked out the entire grid, as protection mechanisms built in to the grid began tripping to protect generating equipment.

Yukon Energy staff rerouted the power supply around the trouble spot and gradually began turning the lights back on at about 12:20 a.m. The entire system was fully restored by 4 a.m.

Shaw said Northwestel technicians are not sure what tripped up their system right around the time Yukon Energy was completing full restoration, but they intend to find out.

They don’t know if it happened as the back-up diesel was in the midst of shutting down while the system moved back to regular power, he said.

Normally, Shaw said, the diesel generator will remain powered up for about 30 minutes once regular power has been restored.

“Over the next few days and the next week, we will be going over a full network investigation,” he said.

Once Northwestel’s system went down, he said, it was not just a matter of flicking a switch to bring it back up.

With no phone communication, and no Internet, employees on hand were literally driving to the homes of other staff members and technicians to get them out of bed so they could help rebuild the system, he said.

Shaw said power was restored at about 8:30 a.m., at which time Northwestel began rebooting its communication services.

Dwight Redden, general manager of Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd., said his company had about a dozen staff out last night helping to check for problems and restore power.

All of the smaller communities on the grid with back up generators, like Haines Junction, Pelly, Mayo, Dawson City, would have had power restored within five minutes, Redden pointed out.

CommentsAdd a comment


Sep 20, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Lets not jump to conclusions about what happened here.  There should be a independent investigation with the power to call for accountability.

Oh! What a mess...

Sep 21, 2012 at 9:38 am

Lately, both Corporations visited the communities and presented the many options they are looking at for the future. Northwestel wants to “upgrade” the services at the cost of millions and millions of dollars from the public funds. However, they’ve been gouging Yukoners for decades without re-investing enough to meet today’s demand and reality. Upgrade what exactly? Same with Yukon Energy, they want more megawatts, but refuse to see that the grid won’t support it. More millions of our public funds. These guys wouldn’t last in the building sector, as they would start to build from the roof down.


Sep 22, 2012 at 12:57 am

Since the communications failure happened after they switched back to grid power from generators, it makes one wonder how often they test the power switching system to make sure it actually works.

once again

Sep 25, 2012 at 2:30 pm

The question that should be asked is “Where did all the million’s go that we spent on a stand alone Emergency Communication System? After 911 we spent oodles of cash insuring that we would always have a functioning “independent” communication system in the event of a future calamity. Where did all that money go??

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