Christmas Eve Blackout

The holiday season is filled with common traditions like Christmas trees and family dinners. In the province of Quebec, a more unusual, and unplanned, holiday tradition is Candlelight Christmas. Over the last five years Hydro Quebec’s distribution system has been impacted by severe weather events in late December.

One of the most memorable outages was Christmas Eve 2015. Santa Claus wasn’t the only one sweeping through the province that evening! A powerful depression generated strong winds of nearly 90 km/h throughout Quebec and inevitably wreaked havoc on the powerlines.

It was an all hands-on deck situation! Being a powerline technician for Hydro-Quebec, I drove 600 km on Christmas Day to help manage the chaos. To help put in perspective exactly how chaotic it was: 147,634 customers were without electricity and 720 outages were in progress, 95% of customers were restored in 29 hours. 210 customers were without power for more than 12 hours and 165 customers for more than 24 hours. On an average work day, this would be a difficult situation to say the least. But it was Christmas Eve, which definitely isn’t an average day for energy consumption.

The outage caused more than 1,532 failures in the province, South Shore (260), Quebec City (54), Montreal (89), Laurentides (1080) and Matapedia(49) depriving a total 441,100 customers of electricity, light, warmth, and the magic of Christmas.

The provincial War Room and the Laurentian, Montreal, Richelieu and Montmorency territorial units were set up quickly. A total of 171 substation feeders and 131 line reclosers were open affecting 67,450 customers. 763 laterals were open affecting 43,171 customers for an average of 14½ hours.

In Montreal, South Shore, 60 teams were mobilized for the event. The recovery was carried out with the help of 64 linemen teams of Richelieu. In Laurentides, 170 linemen teams were mobilized for the event. The turnaround was carried out with the help of 43 linemen teams from Quebec City and Matapédia.

We managed to accomplish 210 restorations in stages bringing power back to 101,400 customers. A max number of 223 linemen teams worked across the province at the same time. The logistics unit provided fuel for vehicles at night.

To make matters worse the website for outage information was experiencing technical difficulties causing further confusion amongst customers. Luckily, corresponding with the customers notice of outages via social media allowed customer representatives the ability to provide customers with an accurate estimated time of repair (ETR).

While all was restored in record time, all this Christmas chaos made one thing truly apparent, we (modern society) are completely and utterly reliant on electricity. So much so that a holiday without it is catastrophic! Meals can’t get cooked, homes won’t be heated, television specials will be left unseen. Electricity powers our cultural, and economic backbone and investing more into our infrastructure and power storage will ensure powerful and reliable electricity for many Christmas Eves to come.