Blackout serves as wake-up call before Olympics

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Vancouver's Olympic organizers and BC Hydro say they are reviewing plans for backup power services for the 2010 Winter Games in light of the power failure that left a large swath of the downtown - including a critical Olympic venue - in the dark for the last two days.

Saying they cannot afford to have another blackout of the Vancouver Exhibition & Convention Centre, which will host the international broadcast centre and the main press centre, the Vancouver Organizing Committee said it will take lessons learned from a post-incident report Hydro will do on the recent power failure.

But both the games organizers and BC Hydro said it is unlikely the broadcast and press centres would be affected should a similar incident happen in 2010, because by then the power company will have a secondary supply from a different substation.

Guy Lodge, the organizing committee's vice-president of services and overlay, said his group has also arranged for a third level of emergency power from diesel generators to be supplied by Aggreko, an Olympic sponsor.

Mr. Lodge said Monday's blackout caught the committee by surprise, but he was confident BC Hydro will be able to supply the primary and backup power sources it has promised. He said Hydro has been advising Games organizers throughout the blackout, and the two groups will learn from what happened.

"These things are always a learning curve. They happen, but better they happen now than closer to Games time," Mr. Lodge said.

In March, BC Hydro signed on to the 2010 Games as an "official supporter," promising no power failures during the Olympics. The deal, which will see the utility provide primary and secondary sources of power to most competition and non-competition venues, allowed the organizing committee to avoid having to buy about $20 million in diesel backup generators.

However, the committee said it will still need about 100 diesel generators for remote areas and as a third level of security for the International Broadcast Centre.

Mr. Lodge said Monday's power failure hasn't shaken organizers' confidence in BC Hydro, but it is causing it to double-check for weaknesses. Prudence dictates that it make sure such a catastrophic failure -- which affected thousands of customers, including major hotels, restaurants and other businesses -- can't happen when the world comes calling in 2010, he said.

"When these things go wrong, they just make you stronger, so all we can do from this is be open to learn and be stronger by it," he said.

Neil Sharpe, BC Hydro's general manager of its Olympic initiative, said the plan calls for power to be routed from two different substations, meaning that if one fails, power from the second one will kick in. There are three substations that feed the downtown core.

Ann English, the director of BC Hydro's 2010 initiative, said the plan also calls for stepped-up inspections of 700 manholes around all the Olympic venues and field tests of all cables to make sure they can carry the necessary loads.

But even with all that, Mr. Sharpe said BC Hydro won't take any chances. It intends to station crews in every venue in the event power goes out, he said.

"Nobody expects these things to happen," he said, noting that he had never seen such a major failure in Vancouver in the decades he has worked for BC Hydro.


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