Why it’s taking so long for some Torontonians to get power

Toronto Hydro still can’t estimate when the work will be done, and warns of further outages


Galit Rodan/CP

Torontonians who’ve gone without heat, electricity or warm, home-cooked meals for nearly a week are sick and tired of the wait. Even though much of the city has moved on from the two days of freezing rain and sub-zero temperatures that toppled hydro wires and tree branches, plenty of households remain in the dark.

To be sure, hydro crews have restored much of the grid thanks to a relentless, around-the-clock effort that’s earned the workers much praise. Earlier this week, 300,000 customers went without power, and many of them are back to their normal routines. But the unluckiest customers, of which there are still about 32,000, could be in for a long and unpredictable wait.

How much of a wait can Toronto Hydro predict?

“It’s just an absolutely impossible situation to predict how the next coming days are going to work themselves out,” said Anthony Haines, Toronto Hydro’s CEO.

Coun. Michelle Berardinetti, who represents a part of southwestern Scarborough that was hit hard by the storm, said not knowing when the lights will come back on is almost worse than not having power at all.

“It’s one thing for a number of people to be put out for a few nights, and that was very challenging,” said Berardinetti. “But now we’re getting on into day six and seven, and we’re still not sure when they’re going to be restored. We’re not given a date or time, and it’s very disconcerting for those residents.”

When? That’s the million-dollar question that everyone’s asking Haines. And he simply can’t answer.

“It’s not a linear experience, meaning that you can’t just say, ‘Well, this many people working for this amount of time will achieve this outcome,’” he said.

What did crews fix first?

In the beginning, crews focused on safety by removing the hundreds of downed live wires lying around intersections. Then, they moved to restoring power for critical services—hospitals, sewer systems, public transit, and pumping stations. Next, crews fixed broken feeders and large wires that supply many thousands of households with power.

Now, workers are in the final stage, which Haines calls “hand-to-hand combat.” It typically involves visiting individual homes, clearing debris, and replacing or repairing electrical units—a process that can take a matter of minutes or several hours, depending on the conditions on the ground.

What slows down the work?

Crews can face complicating factors: Typically, clearing tree branches and restoring wires takes 20-40 minutes. But on Boxing Day, when power was restored to 20,000 households, crews encountered one house that required two-and-a-half hours of work to clear three feet of brush on top of a line.

One neighbourhood in northeast Scarborough was so littered by tree branches that trucks simply couldn’t enter the area. Workers were forced to turn around and call the city’s forestry department to clear the debris.

To make matters worse, the situation is dynamic: Trees are still cracking under the weight of ice and snow, particularly as winds pick up. Haines fears many more outages over the next 24 hours.

Does Toronto need more help?

Good news: More municipalities are sending their hydro workers tonight and tomorrow to assist with Toronto’s recovery efforts. Eight utility companies from all over Canada, and Brockville’s forestry troops, are currently on the ground working 24-7 in 12-hour shifts.

But still no final estimate on when all the lights will turn on?

Alas, for the people living on crackers and peanut butter and yearning to have the “when” question answered, there seems to be no reliable estimate.

“If people could just get a sense of when the work was going to be done, that would give them just a bit of hope,” said Coun. Gary Crawford, who also represents southwestern Scarborough. “There is a lot more work involved in getting that last 10 per cent up than it was the last 90 because it’s much more labour intensive.”

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Why it’s taking so long for some Torontonians to get power

  1. So it’s taking so long because the crews are turning up to sites without an idea of the scope of the work – has no one heard of triage (or tree-age, to coin a phrase)?. Something for the bosses to do but I guess, since it’s ‘not an emergency’, they’d be hard-pressed to return from their sunny vacations courtesy of the sunshine list.

    • Everybody worries about that ‘sunshine list’ and it’s only 100K

      Do you know our youngest MP….22…with no qualifications….makes $171K?

    • x

    • Mayor Ford announces that there are ONLY 30,000 people who do not have power. ONLY? Does the former Mayor Lastman make sense now?

      • Only….. a word that was meant to shrink the scope of the blackout. Toronto has a population 2,791,000
        Toronto Hydro has 719,000 customers
        Do some division and you get 3.88 or 4 people Hydro ‘customer’. Any of the numbers given through the storm had to be multiplied by 4.

    • Yep, union rules apply, 6 people standing around while 1 does the work, and that is a productive day.

    • Seeing as all the work has to be done anyway, sending an extra guy around just to see which sites are the most obstructed just isn’t an efficient use of manpower.

    • So, if the most urgent repair is in the middle of a block that is still heavily strewn with downed branches and trees. How do they get there?

      Once in a while, it helps to THINK!!!!!

  2. IF, the situation had been declared an emergency, the military could have been brought in to cut down and remove all the trees and debris in the way of the power lines. Then hydro would have been able to get the power up in half the time. Whoever posted Ford did the right thing on the emergency status is just a much a fool as Ford.

    • military are not trained to deal with trees with live wires on them

      • None union private business contractors are. Army can move the branches after the power is cut. But this country doesn’t have federal leadership,. Mulcair rather sip wine with the French while Harper and Trudeau do other things.

        Deputy mayor needs to be fired. He is a problem, as he should be helping the city and Ford, not going on vacations.

        And did those low rent counselors do anything?

        Given the BS government Ford has to deal with I think he is doing a good job.

        • Kelly was out of the city for 18 hours, and was always in touch. Edsel has NEVER been in touch with anything or anyone except his dealers. He’s done a horrible job. Kelly’s doing a good job, and the city hasn’t been in the news for the wrong reasons since he took over. How is he a problem?

          The problem is that the downed trees and branches are what has brought down the lines, so they must be removed in order for the lines to be repaired.

        • Notice how quick Harper was to help Alberta during the flooding……I guess Toronto just isn’t as important to him.
          what does Mulcair have to do with it? he’s not the government!

      • If the Russians had been smart enough to cover themselves in leaves and carry really long powerlines, we would have lost the cold war.

      • You’ve never hear of military engineers? THe Military needs power lines, too, The engineering units that do that job for the military could have done that throughout s ON, and other troops could have cleared the branches and trees that aren’t touching wires. BUt, that doesn’t mean that power would have been returned to everyone by this time.

        • So tell us which trades do the job that is the same as a civilian power line technician and arborist?

  3. from a family who is still without power I believe Hydro is doing and has done a great job getting the masses back up and running, but I do challenge some of the info stated above.

    “visiting individual homes, clearing debris, and replacing or repairing electrical units”
    If there has been damage to the mast which runs electrical cables up the side of our house, the meter or other parts that connect the cable to your house then you as the home owner are responsible to commission an electrician and fix it be4 hydro will reconnect you.
    We have reported our specific incident but have yet to be personally been visited by Hydro, hydro on our up since Dec 24th we had to stop a hydro person on the street and were told what we need to do.
    again, I’m not complaining just think the facts should be straight! there is a huge responsibility on the home owner to repair hydro issues.

  4. I am sure where the politicians, mafia and rich live got fixed first.

    • Ontario gov’t spent 1.1 billion dollars, killing two gas plants to get votes, I wonder how many out of town workers, warm hotel rooms, and hot meals this could have supplied to these unfortunate people, please, please be careful who you vote in next election!

  5. Four words. Where was Stephen Harper? The Army Engineers would have been a huge help in Scarborough.

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