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How Toronto Hydro Restored Power after the Winter Storm

Ben La Pianta, a speaker at the 5th marcus evans Distribution Technology & Innovation Summit, takes us through Toronto Hydro’s power restoration efforts.  

Interview with: Ben La Pianta, Executive Vice President, Electric Operations & Procurement, Toronto Hydro


“Utilities cannot prevent an ice storm from happening or keep power on during a storm particularly if most of the infrastructure is above ground, but a thoughtful, prudent and methodical approach does help get power back on much sooner,” says Ben La Pianta, Executive Vice President, Electric Operations & Procurement, Toronto Hydro.

La Pianta, who led the emergency response team during the December 2013 winter storm in Toronto where more than 300,000 customers lost power impacting more than 1 million people, will be speaking at the 5th marcus evans Distribution Technology & Innovation Summit in Dallas, Texas, March 31 - April 1, 2014.

Take us through Toronto Hydro’s power restoration efforts in the recent storms.

Earlier in the week, we knew a warm air mass was coming from Texas and that it would collide with a cold air mass coming from Northern Canada, but at that point, it was unclear whether it would result in freezing rain, snow or sleet. By Saturday morning it was confirmed that we were going to get a considerable amount of ice build-up over Toronto and by 9pm the freezing rain had started. We declared a level two emergency at 11pm and had already accumulated over 10mm of ice on the lines by 3am. At 5am we had lost 33 percent of the load in the City of Toronto. Over 100 primary feeders, 47 municipal substations and 300,000 customers were out of power. More than 1.2 million people were impacted.

We declared a level three emergency at 3am, which allowed us to schedule all our resources until power was restored. In addition, we relied on resources from other utilities and our contractor community to help us.

Our first priority was to respond to the immediate police, fire and ambulance calls, then addressed the priority loads, such as hospitals and water pumping stations. Within 48 hours, we had reconnected all our priority loads and 75 percent of customers were reenergized. We then restored the primary feeders and municipal substations, reenergizing the feeders that allowed us to restore power to the most customers first.

Moving closer to the end, restoring power becomes a house-by-house operation. Ironically, electrical distribution systems are very much like the trees that take down a system. The substations are the roots of the tree and the primary feeders the trunk, which are connected to the lateral feeders, the branches, and ultimately the leaves which are the residents. When an ice storm happens it picks up a tree and shatters it into a million pieces. It all has to be put back together again. This requires a very methodical and logical approach.

What steps would ensure power gets restored sooner next time?

The problem is 36 percent of Toronto is covered by trees, the vast majority of them in proximity to hydro lines. The electrical grid was there first. It was not built in the middle of trees. We need to look at ways to reduce the risk of that canopy coming in contact with power lines. Undergrounding is a partial solution, but economically it is just not feasible. Better technology would allow us to know specifically which residences are out of power and what the nature of the equipment failure is thereby making restoration efforts more efficient. First generations of smart grids in the system do not have that capability. The first smart grids we installed are already being replaced by systems that have greater capabilities.

Where do you see the future of electric power distribution?

The whole grid needs to be rebuilt. Toronto suffers from the same symptoms as other dense urban utilities such as Boston, Washington and San Diego. The electrical infrastructure is old. If it were moved underground it would not be subject to extreme weather events like storms, but on the other hand it would be subject to flooding and extreme temperature fluctuations – so there is no perfect solution. We need to seriously consider the design configuration of the system. Do we need multiple redundancies? Do we expand the network systems beyond our downtown core? That could be very expensive but may have an economic business case for doing so.

Intelligent technologies that look ahead and see if failures are imminent would also be helpful to utilities. We need to be able to isolate pockets of the grid from each other. We should also consider local generation as we cannot rely on the transmission grid as the sole source of generation.

When restoring power, what is the most critical piece of the puzzle?

If you do not have a very accurate integrated geo-spacial system that is integrated to your outage management system which is connected to a smart meter fleet, it is difficult to restore and manage a grid efficiently. It is like trying to put a puzzle together in the dark without even knowing what the picture looks like. All these elements must be in place. Those connection points are not as strong as they need to be.
Interview conducted by: Sarin Kouyoumdjian-Gurunlian, Press Manager

For more information contact: Jennifer Keljik, marketing manager
Phone: 1.312.540.3000 x6592

About the 5th Distribution Technology & Innovation Summit

This unique forum will take place at The Westin Stonebriar, Dallas, Texas, 31 March - 1 April 2014. Offering much more than any conference, exhibition or trade show, this exclusive meeting will bring together esteemed industry thought leaders and solution providers to a highly focused and interactive networking event.

The Energy Network – marcus evans Summits group delivers peer-to-peer information on strategic matters, professional trends and breakthrough innovations.


Please note that the Summit is a closed business event and the number of participants strictly limited.

About marcus evans Summits

marcus evans Summits are high level business forums for the world’s leading decision-makers to meet, learn and discuss strategies and solutions. Held at exclusive locations around the world, these events provide attendees with a unique opportunity to individually tailor their schedules of keynote presentations, case studies, roundtables and one-on-one business meetings. All rights reserved. The above content may be republished or reproduced. Kindly inform us by sending an email to

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