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NB Power - Operations

Maintenance Program

Management of the Business

Customer Service

NB Power Customer Survey

Systems Operations

Other Services


Maintenance Program

The management of facility maintenance is a critical factor in the successful operation of any utility. Given the magnitude of resources involved, the complexity inherent in the electric utility business and the lengthy lead times required to bring a new facility from concept to operation, the decision of whether to build or maintain is continually reviewed.

Generation

NB Power continuously evaluates strategies for the ongoing utilization of its generating facilities. This is done through the development of maintenance criteria and the use of sophisticated technological analysis tools. As plants age, they require additional maintenance in order to provide an appropriate level of reliability. The challenge for NB Power is to determine the proper balance between increasing maintenance expenditures or closing down facilities and building new ones. It is in this context that NB Power evaluates the remaining life of all generating stations and determines which maintenance strategies should be employed.

Of NB Power's existing generating facilities, the Courtenay Bay plant is close to the end of its life for depreciation purposes, and the Coleson Cove plant is more than halfway through its life for depreciation purposes. The performance of these plants will be monitored to determine whether a significant rebuild, allowing their extended use after they have been fully depreciated, is economical.

Maintenance activities are also required to correct design and other problems which were not evident when the plants were originally built. Examples include the SLAR program at Point Lepreau and the ongoing remedial work at the Mactaquac hydro plant to mitigate concrete expansion. The strategy employed for this latter project is also being used by other hydro utilities throughout the world experiencing the same problem.

Nuclear

The substantially lower cost of nuclear fuel relative to thermal fuel places a premium on ensuring the Point Lepreau generating station is utilized to its fullest extent. This requires particular attention to training, maintenance and planning, while maintaining an effective interface with the nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB).

In the mid 1980s, the Canadian nuclear industry discovered a problem in the fuel channels in CANDU reactors: spacers were getting out of position creating a risk of blistering which could result in the fuel channels rupturing. To rectify this situation the SLAR (Spacer Location And Relocation) process was developed for CANDU reactors to locate spacers and move them back into their design position.

During 1986, an inspection of the fuel channels at NB Power's Point Lepreau reactor revealed that spacers in the main heat transport system were out of position. During 1995/96, NB Power examined and repositioned spacers where required in all 380 fuel channels. The SLAR process was completed at a fraction of the cost of changing the fuel channels and allowed NB Power to defer, until the next century, a decision on replacing the fuel channels. In addition to the SLAR work, extensive maintenance was performed on the steam generators, turbine and many other station components. The planned outage was extremely successful. The work was completed on schedule and was the first instance in the world of a SLAR program being applied to an entire reactor. The cleaning, inspection and refurbishing of the steam generators was also a success and the remaining station testing and maintenance was carried out as planned.

During station restart in October 1995, failure of one of the main coolant pumps led to the discovery that a protective cover had been accidentally left in one of the steam generators and had been broken up by the pump and transported into the reactor coolant piping. To ensure safe start-up of the reactor, station staff undertook an extensive inspection and recovery program to locate and retrieve the foreign material. In addition, the necessary engineering studies and operational tests were completed to obtain approval from the Atomic Energy Control Board for a restart. The station began producing power once again in December 1995. A detailed review of the event was carried out by station staff and by industry experts, and changes were made to prevent a recurrence.

Following the SLAR outage and the unplanned extension, Point Lepreau's lifetime capacity factor still places it in the world's top ten performing nuclear stations. While a high capacity factor at Point Lepreau is an important contributor to the Corporation's financial performance, this must be achieved with a recognition that safe operation is the station's first priority.

Transmission

Transmission system reliability incorporates dependability and security. Dependability relates to the continuity of electricity to end users. In the event of equipment failure, system security ensures that system failures are localized, and significant, long-term damage is minimized. As would be expected, older systems provide less reliability and security.

Transmission facilities maintenance is carried out regularly and encompasses both planned and unplanned activities. Priorities are established through regular inspection of the facilities, using aerial patrols, and the monitoring of system performance and analysis of abnormal conditions. The Corporation uses a computerized preventive maintenance program to coordinate all maintenance activities.

Contingency plans provide for the loss of any one element of the transmission system. In the event of substation transformer failure, mobile and spare transformers are available to continue service.

The Corporation is in the midst of a program designed to improve reliability and extend the life of its 69 kV, 138 kV and 230 kV transmission lines.

Distribution

The Corporation's distribution system maintenance program comprises a series of activities designed to minimize power interruptions by avoiding unnecessary problems. Examples include tree trimming, pole upgrading and replacement programs. Naturally, a significant component of maintenance activities is responding to problems and outages caused by severe weather.


Management of the Business

Organization

NB Power's management team is organized into two general streams that could be defined as operational and infrastructure. In the simplest of terms, these two broad categories encompass every employee in the Corporation.

The Operations personnel primarily report through an executive vice-president. This group of individuals are responsible for all the major operating processes including:

  • acquisition and retention of customers;
  • management of resource acquisitions;
  • generation of electricity;
  • transmission and distribution of electricity;
  • construction and maintenance of the entire system;
  • performance of various operations support functions;
  • management of procurement.

This group represents the majority of employees that perform the primary operating functions within the Corporation.

The remainder of the employees can be classified as infrastructure oriented. These individuals generally report through a group of vice-presidents and are responsible for the important infrastructure processes performed within the Corporation. These include the following processes:

  • managing external interfaces;
  • planning and operating the system;
  • managing environmental affairs;
  • managing finance and accounting;
  • managing information resources;
  • managing human resources;
  • providing support services.

This division of responsibilities between infrastructure and operations provides the Corporation with an efficient structure and a strong accountability framework.

Business Process Improvements

In early 1995, NB Power announced the appointment of a Vice-President - Corporate Business Improvements to provide leadership and focus on continued improvement-related issues. Corporate business improvement initiatives during the past year have focused on three areas designed to increase efficiency in Operations, including redefining NB Power's relationship with NBTel under the Joint Use Agreement, a detailed review of fuel management practices and the SAP information technology project.

Regionalization

A project to reorganize the Customer Service Division commenced in April 1993 and was completed during 1995. The objective of this project was to reduce costs through a more efficient operation while at the same time maintaining a high level of customer service.

The Regionalization project focused on the creation of five regions in the province to replace the existing fourteen districts providing service to customers. Regional Headquarters were established in Moncton (Eastern), Rothesay (Southern), Grand Falls (Western), Bathurst (Northern) and Fredericton (Central).

Some of the major initiatives introduced under the regionalization project include:

  • Reducing the cost of processing customer payments by: - implementing convenient payment options for customers; - closing high cost payment offices while at the same time opening additional privately owned payment depots for the convenience of the customer. To date, surveys indicate that payments at remaining NB Power offices, NBTel depots and private depots have decreased while payments made at banks and pre-authorized payments have increased.
  • Reducing the cost of constructing, maintaining and operating the distribution system through organizing appropriate size crews with the right tools and equipment to perform work of varying complexity. In addition, all maintenance functions on facilities of 69 kV and above have been consolidated into one department.
  • Implementing a number of service changes requested by customers including: - operating during extended hours, beyond the traditional hours of business; - improving the equalized billing program, which allows customers to divide their annual electricity cost into twelve equal monthly payments.
  • Directly shipping materials from the supplier to regional warehouses.

Regionalization is also an initiative in the Plant Operations Division. The first field reorganization in generating stations was completed in September 1994 with the establishment of the new Hydro Regional Headquarters in Woodstock. During 1995, Northern and Southern Regional Headquarters were developed for NB Power's thermal generating stations. The Northern region includes the Dalhousie, Belledune, Millbank and Ste. Rose stations and the Southern region includes the Coleson Cove, Courtenay Bay, Grand Manan and Grand Lake stations. These two thermal regions complement NB Power's hydro region in Woodstock. These regions are reviewing existing resources and work practices to improve efficiencies.

Consultation with Industrial and Wholesale Customers

In last year's Business Plan, a commitment was made to meet with NB Power's larger customers and discuss issues related to their power needs. Since its release, considerable time has been spent with these customers. Key messages received from customers during these discussions include:

  • The need for NB Power to keep power rates competitive allowing industry to compete in the global marketplace.
  • The need for NB Power and customers to develop mutually beneficial initiatives.
  • The need for NB Power to continue its emphasis on cost reduction.
  • Consultation with customers should be increased.

Customer Service

NB Power has developed guidelines for most service requests in order to manage job progress and provide customers with estimated completion dates. Delivery is typically better than the guidelines, as represented in Table 4.

As described in the Background Material section on Customer Service, the CEA regularly surveys customers to measure their satisfaction with electric utilities. For the 1995 CEA Survey, NB Power commissioned an extension to the country-wide survey to focus specifically on New Brunswick based customers as a means of providing some objective insight into how customers view the service they receive from NB Power.

The survey results indicate that NB Power's customer service score was very similar to the national average. The scoring techniques utilized by the CEA identify those factors important to customers for which there is relative satisfaction with utility performance, and those factors for which customers are less satisfied with performance.

Areas of Relatively High Customer Satisfaction

NB Power customers were relatively satisfied with the Corporation's performance in the following areas:

  • Speed in restoration of power when a problem occurs
  • NB Power's concern for public safety
  • Reliability of Supply
  • The quality of customer service
  • How NB Power operates with respect to the environment
  • NB Power's encouragement of consumers to make more efficient use of electricity
  • How NB Power plays a leadership role in economic development
  • How NB Power ensures a sufficient supply of electricity in the foreseeable future
  • Social and Community Involvement

Areas Requiring Improvement

The survey indicated three factors where improvements in service are felt by customers to be warranted. It is important to note that, similar to last year, customers across Canada identified these same three areas as requiring improvement within their own electric utility. NB Power is addressing each of these concerns and many of the actions outlined in this Business Plan can be specifically linked to these areas.

These three areas are as follows:

  • The price paid for electricity
  • How NB Power consults the public in Utility Decision-Making
  • Efficient Management

NB Power Customer Survey

In addition to the CEA Survey, NB Power completed its first comprehensive customer satisfaction survey as part of the Corporation's biennial Energy Application Survey. Based on over 4,000 responses, NB Power's customers hold a significantly positive opinion about the utility, 73% citing "favourable" to "very favourable".

When asked to rate specific issues that relate to NB Power, customers had the following opinion of the utility:

Favourable

  • reliability
  • general customer service
  • attitude of employees
  • cares about customers
  • utility good for New Brunswick
  • well managed
  • lowest rates in Atlantic Canada
  • value
  • cost of electricity

Neutral - Less Favourable

  • contribution to economic development
  • conserving electricity/save money
  • ability to compete
  • environmentally responsible
  • public ownership

NB Power's Performance

The utility industry has developed several indices for measuring service reliability, particularly with respect to reliability of supply and speed in restoration following an interruption. The Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI) measures the average length of interruptions in hours. The System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) measures the average total duration of interruptions during the year.

These indices are designed to measure only elapsed time and do not take into account factors which may influence the duration of outages or speed in restoration of service. Almost 70% of all interruptions on the NB Power system are caused by factors difficult or impossible to control. These factors include weather, fallen trees, lightning, birds/animals, vehicles and outages caused by customers. During the past two years, New Brunswick has experienced several severe ice and wind storms which have created numerous extended outages. Additionally, NB Power's system is relatively rural, as opposed to the urbanized system which exists in some other jurisdictions, leading to greater difficulty in keeping the system operating and a longer time in restoring power.

NB Power's five year average for CAIDI to the end of 1994, the last year for which national statistics are available, was 1.50 hours, while the SAIDI average for the same five years amounted to 4.37 hours. The national averages for CAIDI and SAIDI for these same periods were 1.23 hours and 4.17 hours respectively.


System Operations

Background

The proper coordination of generation, transmission and distribution facilities is vital to ensure that electricity is delivered where it is needed at the moment it is demanded. The objective of System Operations is to ensure customers have a reliable supply of electricity, ensure operations are sensitive to health, safety and environment, and to enhance interconnection opportunities. At the heart of NB Power's system operations is the Energy Control Centre. Located in Fredericton and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it plays a major role in ensuring that customers have a secure supply of energy. Energy coordination and accounting, Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA), transmission operations, distribution operations and Central Telephone Answering Service are all located at the Centre.

Energy Coordination

Using sophisticated software, Energy Coordinators meet customer requirements for electricity by utilizing the most efficient mix of generating facilities. The current demand for power and the relative incremental cost of fuel dictate the generating facilities to be used. Energy Coordinators also buy and sell power over interconnection facilities, carrying out transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Transmission System Operations

Systems Operators have direct control of over 400 system components and continuously monitor the transmission network. Given NB Power's commitment to reliability and economy, a central control system has obvious paybacks. For example, the SCADA control system allows lines to be safely switched in and out of service as well as allowing power flows on transmission lines, transformers, generators and interconnected lines with other utilities to be continuously monitored.

SCADA is supplemented by an Energy Management System (EMS) which models the power system. EMS allows operators to make decisions about the operations and security of the power system on an on-going basis. Starting with current conditions on the power system, operators simulate the effects of potential changes, for example the loss of a generator or the maintenance outage of a transmission line, thereby avoiding problems such as the loss of service to customers or damage to equipment.

The SCADA system also contains an Automatic Generation Control program which is used to continually adjust generation to meet load and interconnection requirements. Units at Mactaquac, Beechwood and Coleson Cove along with units in Nova Scotia are controlled in order to accommodate load variations as they occur in the Maritimes.

Distribution System Operations

Distribution Operators coordinate the distribution of electricity from substations to customers' homes and businesses. NB Power's entire distribution system is recorded on a series of computerized maps. These maps are changed regularly to reflect alterations to the distribution system.

As maintenance work is completed on distribution lines, Distribution Operators can de-energize the lines required and re-route electricity in order to minimize service interruptions.

Central Telephone Answering Service

Other programs allow operators to improve the economic operation of the system. The computerized Service Restoration System, which assists Distribution Operations and Central Telephone Answering Service personnel in responding to trouble calls from customers reporting problems, has been linked to the SCADA/EMS system so that outages can be shown automatically on graphic displays representing the distribution lines. These systems allow the Corporation to quickly determine the source of problems and direct repair crews accordingly.


Other Services

Energy Advice

NB Power supplies energy advice, on request, to residential and commercial customers. In addition, engineering personnel are available to deal with matters of electric application in industry. Large industrial customers are more often requesting "energy services" (consulting services in the use of electricity) to assist them in maintaining a competitive advantage in global markets.

In addition, NB Power's Engineering staff provide consulting and trouble-shooting assistance to large and small industry to ensure that service is as reliable as possible.

Export of Knowledge

The Corporation is increasingly being invited to assist foreign-based utilities and governments in providing services based on NB Power's developed expertise in nuclear and other power systems. As an example, expertise is currently being provided to Romanian and South Korean nuclear facilities. In 1994/95, gross revenue from these projects amounted to $7.1 million.

During 1994, NB Power and the China National Nuclear Corporation Research Institute on Nuclear Power Operations (RINPO) reached a memorandum of understanding relating to exchanges of nuclear power technology and associated generation and training programs. In addition, RINPO will act as an agent to assist NB Power in securing future work in the rapidly expanding Chinese electric power industry.

These initiatives not only assist in maintaining lower power rates for in-province customers, they also allow retention of world class expertise on staff.



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