SaskPower’s central stores yard at Maple Creek. SaskPower Blog

From last Thursday, April 7 to Sunday, April 10, my email in box was full of emails from SaskPower, talking about its efforts to restore power to southwest Saskatchewan after a hell of a blizzard struck.

Three days in, the release said, “SaskPower continues to utilize 19 district and contractor crews to restore power as quickly and as safely as possible. A total of 320 new power poles have been dispatched to the region. Of those poles, 200 have been installed so far, resulting in roughly 20 kilometers of power line being rehung.

“Currently, 970 customers are without power. Golden Prairie and the surrounding rural area were restored at 4:00 p.m. today and the rural areas around Piapot are expected to be restored by 10:00 p.m. tonight. The majority of the remaining customers affected by this storm are expected to be back on by 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night.”

Today, Wednesday, April 13, southeast Saskatchewan and most of southern Manitoba is being whacked by a Colorado low that is expected to last from Tuesday night until Thursday. This morning, alone, we cleared between six and eight inches of snow. Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division announced  yesterday they were closing all schools on Wednesday and Thursday in anticipation of “the potential of the storm ‘of the century.’” This is something they almost never do.

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That’s because Environment Canada is still saying, “Total snowfall accumulations will range from 20-50 centimetres (8 to 20 inches) with this system.”

This got me thinking about how, by federal decree, in just 13 years all light vehicles sold in Canada are supposed to be zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs). While hydrogen could make up some of that, the reality is most will be electric. And the federal budget last week made moves to start pushing medium and heavy trucks to ZEVs. Those would be the type of trucks those aforementioned contractors working for SaskPower would be using.

We used to have a neighbour in North Battleford who was a SaskPower lineman. He would be out in the absolute worst weather, patching up our power grid.

That’s the same grid that, back in 2009, I heard a SaskPower vice president tell a conference was “weak, as in feeble.” We had more power poles than people, and the average age was 50 years or more. Now, I’ve seen more efforts in replacing power poles in the last three years than I have cumulatively seen in my entire life, but we still have a very long ways to go. And that’s why a blizzard could take down an area like Maple Creek.

I’m sure those crews were working very long hours to restore power to those homes and farms that were without juice for days. That meant not only the men and women were working hard, but so were theirs trucks. I expect those vehicles were kept running most of the time, to keep warm, to be ready, and to power the buckets and other hardware needed.

This is what I am afraid of: in the not too distant future, a new SaskPower CEO will, in a virtue-signalling announcement, proclaim that all new vehicles the Crown corporation acquires will be electric vehicles (EVs). Perhaps this will be after a change in government, to the New Democratic Party. But eventually, it’s going to happen. To show how the government of the day is onboard with the battle against climate change, all the linemen and repair crews, like my former neighbour, will be driving electric.

I’ll be a great photo op. There will be a medium duty bucket truck, a half ton and a one ton, all in gleaming white with orange SaskPower decals. Platitudes will be expressed about how we’ve been working towards producing most of our power from renewable, green energy. CBC will be front and centres, flanked by CTV and Global. Maybe the National Observer will do a special feature on our green power utility.

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And even if a future SaskPower CEO doesn’t go down this path, I am absolutely certain a Manitoba Hydro CEO will. After all, it wasn’t that long ago a certain Manitoba premier forgot they had an oilpatch.

My neighbour had a Ford F-150 company truck. So I imagine linemen like him will be quipped with the Ford F-150 Lightning with the extended range battery. Those would be the ones requiring an 80 amp charger on a 100 amp circuit to charge them up each night.

Now what happens when you get an event like Maple Creek? Where crews are out in the field, all day, all night? Right now, you can just come along with a slip tank and fuel up their vehicles. They can keep on going. But you can’t do that so easily with an electric vehicle. I doubt you’ll find a 400 amp Tesla Supercharger in Golden Prairie, Saskatchewan.

SaskPower crew, Maple Creek. SaskPower Twitter

But wait, the F-150 Lightning can indeed charge another F-150 from its battery, you say. Indeed, it can. But instead of two fully charged vehicles, you end up with two vehicles with less than half the charge.

There’s an example of this in military air-to-air refuelling, 40 years ago this month, during the Falkland Islands War. Britain was desperate to take out the main runway at Port Stanley with a bombing raid. The closest airfield they had was on Ascension Island, in the very middle of the South Atlantic. The target was 12,600 kilometres away, round trip. They could do using a series of air-to-air refueling tankers, each passing along some of its fuel to the next in the chain. But to get just one, singular Vulcan bomber over the target, it took 17 planes – yes, you read that right – 2 bombers and 15 tankers, to get just one bomb on that runway.

This is what it took to get one bomber to the Falklands using parasitic in-flight refueling. Is this what it will take to recharge a SaskPower EV crew trucks in the field?

 

And that’s basically what it would take to keep SaskPower EV trucks working in the field in a situation like Maple Creek. When you have no other option, because the power is already out and you don’t have other options for refuelling in the field, that’s the type of extraordinary measures you’ll have to do. You can’t just refuel in the field, unless they hook up booster cables to whatever live powerlines they have. That’s probably not in the owners manual.

What happens when a lineman like my former neighbour comes home at the end of a long day, plugs in his depleted SaskPower F-150 lightning, and gets called out a few hours later? What if his power goes out at his house? How does he respond to the call? What if power is out for the whole town? What if an ice storm has taken out the whole region? Now he’s going out with what, a 35 per cent charge, for a 14-hour call? Maybe for the next three days?

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What if it’s -35 C, and his truck’s battery is putting out almost as much for heat as it is for mileage? What if all our coal plants are shut down, and our wind turbines aren’t turning because its too cold (they can’t operate below -30, lest they shatter). How does he perform his heroic duties then?

And let’s go a little further down this path. Let’s say it’s 2040, five years past the federal deadline for all new vehicles to be EV. Medium trucks are all EV. Gasoline and diesel-fueled light and medium-duty trucks, like the ones SaskPower operates, will have been phased out of their fleets and replaced with EVs.

That won’t be just SaskPower trucks, but Highways snowplows and tow trucks, too.

Even if they do have any gas and diesel-powered trucks remaining, it will be increasingly difficult to get fuel for them. Most gas stations are gone or on their last legs. We will be living in a climate-change fighting paradise!

And no one will be able to turn the power back on.

These are some of the unforeseen consequences that will come out of switching transportation to EVs. Except they aren’t really unforeseen, now, are they?

 

Brian Zinchuk is owner and editor of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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