High Winds knock out power, cause havoc

Trent Ernst, Editor


A major wind storm blew through Northern BC and across the prairie provinces last Tuesday night, causing widespread damage across the western provinces.

In Tumbler Ridge, the most notable effect of the windstorm was the loss of power, but the town wasn’t the only place to lose power. According to Capital Power, the top wind speeds on Tuesday night were hitting 140 kph.

Capital Power’s Michael Sheehan says that too much wind is just as bad as not enough, so as a safety measure, some of the facility’s 79 turbines paused or shut down by turning themselves away from the wind in the afternoon. “This is exactly what the turbines are designed to do,” says Sheehan. “When winds are 90 km/hour or greater, sensors signal the main computer to shut the turbine down as a safety measure.”

The optimum wind speed for power production is 60 km/hr, but, says Sheehan, “The wind speed hit a high of 140 km/h at approximately 7 pm on Tues. Jan. 14, which is more than twice the optimal speed for power production.”

Trees, branches and other debris caused all four circuits to trip, which resulted in the entire facility being temporarily offline. “It was already dark at this point, so the circuits were left down overnight as it was too difficult to safely and properly examine the overhead conductors on these circuits to look for a tree or branch that could have caused the circuits to trip,” says Sheehan. And with the wind still to strong for the turbines to run, Capital Power decided to wait until Wednesday morning before checking things out.

Circuits three and four were re-energized by about noon the next day, but a tree had fallen across the conductors on a pole that both circuits (one and two) were strung across. A tree falling crew arrived on Thursday to remove the tree from the circuit one and two conductors as well as three separate trees on the fiber optic communications cable in various locations.

“Once circuits one and two were verified of being free of any visible faults or damage, these circuits were safely re-energized at approx. 3 pm and the site was back to normal operation with all four circuits energized and producing power,” says Sheehan.

The winds blew down trees, tore flashing from people’s houses and caused havoc for many people.

According to Derrick Blackwell, Health and Safety Coordinator at Walter’s Wolverine Mine, the mine had to be shut down for about an hour and a half. “We had 20 or 30 trees come down on the Mine Road when the wind was at its peak,” says Blackwell. “Because of that, we had no emergency exit if there were any injuries.”

A crew went out and cleaned the downed trees, but it took longer than expected as more trees kept coming down.

While the mine was the last place in Tumbler Ridge to get power, Blackwell says the mine does have a backup generator, and the site “can run for months” off the grid; it was only for the safety of the workers that the main pit was closed.”

In town, the wind only caused a few issues. District CEO Barry Elliot says: “I haven’t heard of anything yet, and you’d think by now they’d have found any damage.”

There were no major issues reported to the RCMP, and while the fire department received a couple calls saying their CO2 monitors and smoke alarms were going off. In all cases it turned out that they just needed to change their batteries.

At Peace River Coal, the wind caused at least one injury, as a worker there was actually lifted off his feet and thrown to the ground, and the strong winds caused haul trucks to have difficulty staying on the roads.