String of mechanical problems prompts state of emergency as lights go off and pipes freeze

Rankin emerges from plunge into darkness


Rankin Inlet remained under a state of emergency Tuesday after a string of mechanical failures at the power plant plunged the hamlet into darkness this past week.

Ed Picco, the energy minister, told the legislative assembly that officials with Qulliq Energy Corp. hoped to see a new generator land in the community aboard a Hercules aircraft this past Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, a transformer needed to get the generator up and running remained stuck in Winnipeg.

"Once these flights land in Rankin Inlet, we should be able to have the generator on-line within a few hours, and will be back to a more comfortable level of power," Picco said.

Schools reopened Monday while government offices were open again for half-days and residents were still being urged to conserve electricity to avoid straining what QEC called a "continuous but limited" power supply.

Peak demand in Rankin Inlet is around 2,700 kilowatt-hours. At the height of the outages, the plant was producing just 950 kilowatt-hours, said Meghan McRae, a QEC spokesperson. She it was too early to know what the incident would end up costing the utility.

Lorne Kusugak, Rankin Inlet's mayor, said the community respected Qulliq's pleas to limit energy consumption while workers scrambled to do repairs and get new a new generator installed.

"All the houses and everything is online now, so if people were using power consumption as normal those generators would be working a lot harder than they are now," he said.

But the outage caused water lines to at least 20 public housing units to freeze, depriving residents of water, some for as much as a week. Kusugak said the hamlet was offering water deliveries to people with frozen pipes.

Kusugak also said there were water mains breaking in town, including one in front of his own house, but he couldn't say if those were caused by the outage, since main breaks are normal this time of year.

"I don't know if that's caused because of the power outage or because it's minus 35 for a month and something gave," he said. "But there are people's houses that are freezing."

The trouble began February 18 when one of the power plant's large diesel-powered engines failed, Picco told the legislative assembly Feb. 21. A day later the second large engine quit. Parts for both weren't expected to arrive in the hamlet until sometime this week.

The plant also has two smaller engines to even out power output and serve as an emergency backup, though they don't produce enough power for Rankin Inlet to operate at peak electricity use, which caused rolling blackouts. Then on Thursday, a small fire shut down one of the small generators, causing a severe power shortage.

That's when Kusugak called the state of emergency, which allows officials to shut down business and government offices and enforce energy conservation measures.

It wasn't clear by Nunatsiaq News' deadline when the state of emergency would be lifted.

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