After doing without for more than three days, most of the homes affected by a major power outage in northern Saskatchewan had their electricity back as of Friday.
The outage was caused after a wildfire burning northeast of Prince Albert did significant damage to electrical infrastructure that serves the north-central part of the province.
About 9,000 customers in communities such as La Ronge, Air Ronge, Stanley Mission and Montreal Lake were affected by the power outage which began Monday afternoon.
SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry said most affected homes had their power restored by late Thursday evening but there were some hiccups.
“A couple of communities, Stanley Mission and Grandmother’s Bay, went right back offline after the line was re-energized,” he said. “That’s likely because of really high load immediately, the temperatures were low there, and the communities rely primarily on electric heat. So, that may have overwhelmed our system. Our crews responded and those communities were restored between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m.”
Nevertheless, residents in Hall Lake still did not have power as of Friday morning.
The fire, which significantly damaged 15 power pole structures, exposed a major vulnerability in SaskPower’s electrical distribution system.
Residents from Montreal Lake in the northeast to just north of Stanley Mission are dependent on a single transmission line for power.
If this line suffers extensive damage, as was the case with the Cloverdale Fire, thousands of people could be without power for any number of days or longer.
Cherry said the northern transmission line is a priority for SaskPower but it is difficult to foresee what the remedy will be short of building another line or investing in alternative sources of power for the area – neither of which appear to be on the corporation’s agenda at present.
“The northern part of the province definitely does provide unique challenges for power restoration efforts – the difficult terrain and large geography,” he said. “A lot of our customers in the north are served by only one transmission line. So, if the line goes down, the community has to stay off until the line’s repaired. We’re certainly exploring options to modernize and re-enforce the northern grid so we can minimize some of these events. We’re going to be looking at a variety of options over the course of this year.”
According to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, the Cloverdale Fire remains contained at a little over 5,500 hectares.
“Weather is the leading news story on this event,” SPSA Vice-President of Operations Steve Roberts said. “We’re seeing extremely cold temperatures. The cold temperatures and reduced winds are significantly helping the firefighters on the ground.”
The stabilization of the fire means the roughly 60 people who had to evacuate the local area beginning on Monday can now return home.
(PHOTO: SaskPower crews work on damaged power pole structures northeast of Prince Albert earlier this week. Photo courtesy of SaskPower.)