Six days off the grid and a small time anomaly

By Andru McCracken


Image by Pavlofox

If not for a brief outage Thursday night, residents may not have noticed that communities from Albreda to Dome Creek were running completely separate from the provincial power grid.

But McBride resident Joel Zahn noticed the difference when the power came back on.

“The time on my digital stove clock is moving faster than regular time,” said Zahn. “Is my stove clock messed, or does that normally occur when we’re off the main grid?

Bob Gammer, BC Hydro’s regional contact said that there was a planned outage to repair equipment in Valemount where the valley connects to the provincial power grid.

“To minimize the impact, we switched over to an island,” said Gammer.

In effect, all of the power used in the Robson Valley for a six day stretch was generated by three run-of-river power plants, Castle

Mountain Hydro, Hauer Creek and Hystad Creek.

Then one generator went down and the whole system went offline.

BC Hydro was already in the middle of the planned outage work, said Gammer, and while bringing the power stations back online, they were slightly out of sync and this caused some clocks to run away. Some clocks use the 60Hz frequency provided by their alternating current (AC) power source to keep time. When connected to a stable power source, like BC’s power grid, it’s a pretty good bet, that clocks will keep time, but because the three Robson Valley generating stations weren’t quite in sync, it caused time to run away.

Zahn, a teacher in McBride who’s a tech whiz and science fiction fan, said his digital stove clock gained 2.5 hours, though his plug-in alarm clock was unaffected.

“The temporal anomaly seems to be isolated to the digital stove clock. The bread in the breadbox and the veggies on the counter don’t seem to be aging any more rapidly than normal,” he quipped.

He said if his stove was capable of small increment time travel he’d use it to prepare a turkey dinner in 5 minutes.
Gammer said, despite the time anomalies, being able to leverage the local power plants to provide backup power is a real local advantage.

“It’s great that we have this flexibility. We can’t do it everywhere, but for Robson Valley customers it’s great,” he said. “If we didn’t have this option we would have seen a longer outage and deferred maintenance.”

One of the owners of a local run-of-river hydro generation facility, who asked not to be identified, said that the ability to provide power to the valley is not typically possible after November, because less water is running in local streams and because of the additional heating load with cold temperatures makes it too difficult.

“A major event in winter would be difficult to manage. It might be possible to do some kind of rolling blackouts though,” he said.

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