Campus power outages subject of senate meeting discussion

University signs letter of intent with MB Hydro to address power issues

As a heavy snow blanketed Manitoba starting Oct.11 and continuing well into the following weekend, many buildings across the province were hit with power outages.

The U of M was no exception, with many buildings on the Fort Garry campus experiencing an outage that day. Biological Sciences, Max Bell, IGAC, Education #3 and Migizii Agamik all lost power, and power had to be shut down at St. John’s College, St. Paul’s College, the Wallace Building, 55 Chancellor, Education #1 and #2, Helen Glass and the parkade.

Power had been restored to all buildings by just past 6 p.m., but power outages on campus are not a rare occurrence, with recent outages happening in July and May.

U of M spokesperson John Danakas said the university was taking note of the power outages and had plans to address them.

“There have been a number of power outages over the last few years on the Fort Garry campus, for example, and there is a need to address infrastructure, and there is a plan,” he said.

Power outages on campus can be attributed to three different concerns. Problems with the incoming Manitoba Hydro lines at the Mohawk power distribution station on Bishop Grandin Boulevard and along the transmission route result in one third of the outages, and the other two thirds are caused by aged infrastructure at the university station on Freedman Crescent and across buildings on campus.

At the U of M senate meeting held Oct. 2, power outages were discussed, including solutions. There are plans in place to add a third distribution line to the university in the 2020-21 school year and to replace “suspect and aged” distribution equipment.

A letter of intent has also been signed with Manitoba Hydro to replace the university power distribution station with points of delivery on campus at a higher voltage, which the agenda calls a “major advancement to working collaboratively with [Manitoba] Hydro on ensuring a reliable supply of electrical service to the campus.”

Mohawk station was the centre of a $19.7 million expansion project starting in 2016 and ending in 2018, which included a new transformer and capacitor bank and yard expansion.

In the meantime, students and faculty who are particularly affected by power outages — for example, researchers on campus whose work relies on power remaining stable — should work with the physical plant to ensure losses are minimized, Danakas said.

“They can work with physical plant, here specifically at the University of Manitoba, to make sure that they’ve taken as many precautions as possible,” he said. “So the university works with researchers and departments to help facilitate minimizing the impact of power outages.”

“There are many cases that I’m aware of where physical plant has helped ensure that, in the case of refrigeration and so forth, that there’s backup,” he said.

While he did not say whether data was being collected by the university on losses to research that occurred due to power outages, Danakas said these situations were being “monitored closely.”

“In the normal course of operations, researchers who rely on power are advised to take precautions so that power outages don’t have a negative impact on their research.”