John Gaudet, president and chief executive officer of Maritime Electric.
©JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Maritime Electric is looking to do a better job keeping the lights and heat on across P.E.I. when nasty weather threatens the supply of power.
John Gaudet, president and chief executive officer of the utility, says major storms and outages are on the rise in the province.
“So when we look at it for our total 79,000 customers we’re seeing the contributions from major storms increasing (outages) by five, seven, 10 hours per year, which we are not satisfied with,’’ he says.
Gaudet notes a lot of Maritime Electric’s customers are on a single line.
“Other utilities are able to back up supplies so that if a pole broke on this road you can isolate that and feed it from another area,’’ he explains.
“So we’re starting to look at that. That takes time and that takes investment and that takes planning.’’
He says the key is increasing the number of distribution lines into communities.
“By improving the number of customers on each line, we believe that we can make significant progress in improving reliability especially during major events,’’ he says.
Turning a profit
Maritime Electric, through a three-year regulated agreement, is allowed a return on equity of 9.35 per cent. This rate results in annual profits typically falling between $11 million and $12 million.
A storm in late November left many in Eastern P.E.I. without power for several days.
Gaudet offered reporters a sort of state-of-the-utility address following an information meeting held Thursday in Charlottetown for shareholders of Fortis, the St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador-based international diversified electric utility holding company that owns Maritime Electric.
Gaudet noted a major bone of contention with customers is difficulty encountered in accessing and using Maritime Electric’s website.
He says a lot of effort is going into making improvements.
A new website will be launched in September with an improved outage map as well as improved and expanded information in areas of electrical safety, energy efficiency and the environment.
“We think we can conduct business 24/7 online whether you want to pay a deposit for a service or get a service line technician out to your house or you want to arrange a new service for a new building,’’ he says.
“More information,’’ he adds, “on our website about outages, the extent of outages and what customers can expect.’’
Maritime Electric by the numbers
79,000 – number of customers
5,925 – number of kilometres of high voltage power lines
122,500 – number of poles
25 – number of substations
498 – millions of dollars in P.E.I. assets
182 – number of employees
Gaudet also updated the major submarine cable project that will see two new cables, rated as 180 MW each, more than double the current combined capacity of the aging cables.
He says “spot burial’’ of the new cables should be complete by the end of next week.
The cables will undergo multiple tests before they are up and running.
He is confident the project will come in on budget at $142 million.
“There are some extra costs that we disagree with and those are the items that we will be discussing going forward,’’ he adds.
“There are some costs that are fair and there are some that are under dispute.’’
Gaudet calls the new cables a game changer because they will immediately address any concerns with the existing cables that are 40 years old.
“The load on the Island has grown well past the capability of those cables requiring on-Island generation to supplement that,’’ he notes.
“If we do it right (with the new cables) customers won’t notice a thing but in the background we’ve significantly increased the reliability of the electricity supply in P.E.I.’’