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Alberta's electrical operators test out blackout situation

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It was a hands-on training session at the University of Calgary for electrical operators, who got the chance to experience a worst-case scenario.

Members of the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) were joined by partners from electricity providers for a simulation of what would happen, and how Alberta’s electricity would be restored in the event of a system-wide blackout.

Miranda Keating Erickson, AESO’s vice-president of operations, says this annual exercise is a standard requirement that allows operators simulated experience while adapting to Alberta’s ever-changing electrical system.

“This is something that would be a very rare event. We have never seen one in Alberta,” she said. “The whole goal of this is to ensure that if we ever got there, we have people that are prepared, and ready, and they have a plan and they know what they need to do.”

Keating Erickson says Alberta is set up to recover from a blackout within three days, but Mother Nature holds the wild card.

“If it’s an ice storm and you’ve got extensive damage and you have to rebuild things. If it’s a forest fire that’s taken out extensive swaths … whatever the damage is, you have to work around that,” she said. “So you could have some localized areas where it lasts much, much longer than that. And we’ve seen that in other jurisdictions.”

She points to a 2003 blackout in the northeast U.S. and Ontario, and to a widespread Quebec blackout in the late 90s, caused by ice storms.