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FJ businesses, residents beset with power outages

Electricity should be more stable after Highway 99 upgrades complete, says B.C. Hydro



Rosalind MacLean and her bakers were constructing 200 pies when the power went out in Function Junction on Sunday, Dec. 21.

“It was a nightmare,” said the owner of Rosalind’s pastry shop.

“Because it was right before Christmas, we really needed to make them.”

Despite the -11.7 °C temperature outside, the team continued to build the pies in the dark.

“We were just starting to decide that maybe we should go home and come back later when the power came back on,” said MacLean.

The bakers had about 150 pies ready for the oven when the lights kicked in. But because of the outage, their five-hour workday — days before Christmas — was stretched into a 10-hour workday.

Businesses and residents in Whistler’s industrial park are not strangers to the frequent power outages. Last year, approximately seven power outages in Function were reported to B.C. Hydro. And two more are on the books so far for January 2009.

Across the street from Rosalind’s, Jorge Alvarez at Toad Hall Studios said the blackouts in Function are also affecting his business.

The graphic design company relies heavily on computers to operate, explained Alvarez. And Toad Hall has a $100,000 automatic press that is vulnerable to fluctuating electrical charges.

“If a power outage catches it when it is moving, it can wreck the machine,” said Alvarez.

Louise Bowyer-Smyth from Whistler Resort Management said her company has also suffered setbacks as a result of the outages. If the company doesn’t shut down its server properly after an outage, its service levels are down for 24-hours.

Bowyer-Smith, who lives in one of the 30 apartments in Function Junction, said residents in the area have to work around the outages as well. Their building does not have propane as an alternative.

“You can’t do a lot of washing, you can’t work the dishwasher, and you are worried about your food in the freezer,” said Bowyer-Smyth. She added that Function power outages have become a common discussion topic among the apartments’ inhabitants.

Dag Sharman, spokesperson for B.C. Hydro, said the utility company is aware of the problem and is working towards a solution.

He said because of the construction on Highway 99, the Function Junction power line has become more vulnerable to falling trees and other risks than before.

“As the construction goes on, it exposes previously unexposed trees that were in the middle of the forest and not in the elements more directly,” said Sharman.

“We have had problems with those issues falling into the lines.”

Sharman said after the construction on Highway 99 is complete at the end of 2009, the power line into Function should be less susceptible to outages.

Until then, B.C. Hydro is dealing with “hazard” trees in the area and looking at other vegetation improvements to prevent future blackouts, he said.

Not all companies in Function have been affected by the frequent power outages, though.

Duane Hepditch from Clearstream Networks, a web-based software studio, said because most of the outages occur at night, his company has not lost any data.

“If it happened during the day, it would certainly impact us, but we are usually gone by night,” he said.

Power for Function Junction, and the athletes’ village, comes through a substation in Function that was built at the end of 2007.

Sharman said Whistler’s main power line has not been affected by the highway construction.

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