Reports of SSE giving out false information on Campbeltown ‘reconnection’

We are being told by an angry resident of Campbeltown that SSE are repeatedly giving inaccurate information to the media on the status of the supply to the town.

This resident turned on the radio at midday today – 27th March – and heard a report that Campbeltown had been reconnected.

This is said to be flatly untrue. Our informant is not connected and nor are several others the individual happens to know.

The household concerned evidently received one phone call several days ago promising early reconnection and a further phone call. Neither have yet come.

The person passing on this information understands that the company will be feeling under pressure but is angry at the disinformation being peddled – particularly since this household has seen no sign of any great activity in getting the town fully reconnected.

Certainly BBC Scotland is reporting that: ‘Power was restored to Campbeltown [Ed: our emphasis – there is NO equivocation here], but 800 customers in outlying areas were still cut off as well as 20 homes in Tarbert.

The suggestion of spin going on here marries with evidence of spin in other public statements from SSE.

Earlier today, its website information service declared that:

‘…engineers have effectively established the equivalent of two new power stations to connect homes while they repair our distribution and transmission networks’.

To the uninitiated or the fast-scanner, this reads as a massive set of full reconnections achieved while work continues on outstanding damage to the network.

What this actually refers to is the volume of power from mobile generators shipped in to get some power into the main population clusters. This has been a massive effort and it has brought relief to many – limited and temporary relief, but relief nevertheless.

‘Two power stations’ worth however, does seem to be over-egging it, although some power stations are small, old and their output is modest.

The failure to be open that they’re talking about mobile generators here is deceiving – and has to be knowingly so. Otherwise why would you not say: ‘We’ve brought in and installed enough mobile generators to make available XXX wattage of temporary power.’?

The bottom line is that no one would or could deny how hard the engineers at the sharp end have been working in atrocious conditions to do what they can as best they can.

But the company has not been forthcoming with the honest estimates of timescales to the full restoration  of power.

What they have done in this respect is actually more spinning. They finally said last night – and repeated today – that they hoped to have everyone reconnected ‘by the end of Thursday night’.

Think about it.

‘The end of Thursday night’ is actually Friday morning – and could run well into Friday. But saying ‘Thursday night’ instead of ‘Friday morning’ subtly shaves a day off the reality.

Not good enough.

And if SSE are exaggerating their achievements in reconnections, they are undermining public trust in the security of their information. That is a very dangerous place for a company to put itself in.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • What is certain, and will hopefully get careful thought when the dust has settled, is the impact that this storm has had on different sectors of the community.
    Whereas people living in quite remote places in Kintyre are probably no strangers to the risk of an occasional lengthy power cut, the urban population of a place the size of Campbeltown are far less likely to have any experience of this degree of isolation – let alone any inkling at all that such a situation could arise.
    That the local distribution network in some parts of the town seems to be taking days longer to ‘fire up’ than in others is – to an outsider – difficult to understand, even given that the engineers have to start somewhere and can’t ‘do everything at once’.
    That some elderly people apparently had to be evacuated from the town to heated accommodation at Machrihanish is not good news.
    Yes, community spirit kicks in and can undoubtedly work wonders, but I wonder if central government was as alert as it might have been?
    Would it be risking accusations of being unrealistic to wonder if the MOD – the navy, anyway – could have played a part in getting power into some of the town centre?
    I’ve got an idea that the navy helped out in coastal towns hit by infrastructure collapse in other parts of the world, in the not so distant past, and that many warships can generate a substantial amount of power.
    Maybe the navy is now so small, and so dispersed, that this notion is fantasy.
    One question needing answered is how much (not whether) the time taken to reopen the A83 held up the start of repairs and provision of temporary generators, and whether this delay was avoidable.

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    Robert Wakeham March 27, 2013 10:33 pm Reply
  • Why do we need so many diesel-hungry generators in Kintyre when there are so many wind farms in the area? Can the wind farms not provide the necessary free power?

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    Mitie Puzzled March 27, 2013 10:54 pm Reply
    • There are serious questions to be asked on this issue – and a series of readers have been commenting in various ways on the matter.

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      newsroom March 27, 2013 11:58 pm Reply
    • Simple answer to that one, the wind turbine generation is connected into the grid and ultimately to the transmission lines that have been damaged. To do any work at all on the lines they have to be disconnected from all sources of supply for safety. It is ironic that we have local wind turbine installations and a factory that manufacturers them in Kintyre but can’t take benefit in this dire time of need.

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      John March 28, 2013 2:45 am Reply
      • It’t surely not as simple as that – for example, the damaged section of the main line in the Crossaig area can be isolated at the Carradale switchyard, so is the line on south to Campbeltown also damaged and inoperable?

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        Robert Wakeham March 28, 2013 9:57 am Reply
        • dd

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          Linesman March 28, 2013 7:51 pm Reply
    • Sadly, it’s just not feasible, and not only for the obvious safety reasons mentioned by John (faulty line sections can in most cases be isolated and grounded for safe working).

      The over-riding problem is that electricity has to be supplied to consumers at a closely regulated voltage and frequency to avoid damage both to network equipment and appliances. The only way that these two vital parameters can be maintained is if the supply and demand are precisely matched on a second-by-second basis.

      Normally the grid provides this balancing function, and when the local main connection is lost, the only way that power can be supplied to consumers locally is from plant specifically designed to be highly responsive and self-regulating, i.e. diesel generators. Even this is technically very difficult, mainly due to the very high variability of demand over a relatively small group of consumers – hence the use of multiple small generators and pleas to folk to use electricity sparingly and smoothly.

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      Tim McIntyre March 28, 2013 10:15 am Reply
    • Also, most (not all) wind turbine generators require an existing 50Hz AC system to feed into, to make the inverters (from DC to AC) operate correctly. There are newer devices becoming available, which can invert from DC to AC without an existing system, but I understand they are not widely used yet.

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      HMF March 28, 2013 11:26 am Reply
      • Sounds like there’s a pressing need for technological development to iron out some of these incompatibilities – as well as developing effective energy storage to cushion the variable output of windfarms – and tidestream generators – and make them more useful within their own areas. Otherwise, the arguments that a windfarm will power x thousand homes just doesn’t wash when it comes to expecting people to accept them as neighbours ‘for the greater good’ of us all. Within Kintyre it would appear that they power exactly zero homes.

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        Robert Wakeham March 28, 2013 11:52 am Reply
      • Robert – it’s perhaps an understandable reaction (especially from those who are already not well-disposed towards renewables) that ‘just in our hour of need, these wind farms/hydro stations are no use to us’, but the fact is that the grid fault which has hit Kintyre is a once-in-a-generation event, if that. It could just as easily have happened on the same line at Inveraray or Lochgilphead, or on one of the other 132kV grid lines into Taynuilt or Lochaber, or anywhere else in the country.

        The cost of designing the power system in every area to be able to use local generation in the (extraordinarily unlikely) event of a failure of this type would be truly astronomical, and even then the likelihood of wind or hydro generation output being a reasonably close match for local demand in any given area is tiny, and so there would still be a need for balancing generation plant or in some cases a power ‘dump’ load to get rid of excess energy.

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        Tim McIntyre March 28, 2013 3:17 pm Reply
        • All understood, but I wonder:
          a) just how exceptional this event will prove to have been,
          b) whether the establishment of a national grid delivering more or less consistent power has removed the incentive to push technology to find ways of achieving flexible, compatible localised power input – and the sheer volume of windfarm developments contrasts with the seeming lack of progress in developing energy storage systems that would make bulk windpower more worthwhile.
          I appreciate your comments about the high cost of complex systems to balance different local power sources with local demand, but I wonder how much this is down to a need for technological ‘catch-up’?

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          Robert Wakeham March 28, 2013 4:39 pm Reply
          • “just how exceptional this event will prove to have been” – aha! Time will tell 🙂 I’m sure if it starts to happen regularly, there will be a case made for grid reinforcement/diversity – e.g. an undersea cable directly into Campbeltown from Ayrshire perhaps? Large conurbations tend to have multiple HV grid lines running into them from many diverse sources, to allow a complete failure of any one of them without undue disruption to consumers. The smaller the town, the more difficult it is to justify the level of investment needed for this – unfortunate but inescapable.

            On your comments about technological catchup, I’m not so sure. Compared to, say, consumer electronics, energy and power seems much less amenable to dramatic cost reductions through technological advancement – most of it is still the technology of the late 19th century with only incremental improvements. The biggest problem in trying to design a localised standalone power system is not so much the control (which is certainly now easier and cheaper with the development of HV power electronics) but the balancing of energy supply and demand. As you have surmised, this is primarily an issue of energy storage and there is no technology that I can see on the horizon which offers to store significant quantities of high-grade energy cheaply AND efficiently – e.g. there isn’t much scope for technology to reduce the costs of building pumped storage, which is presently the only game in town for storing large gobbets of electrical energy, because it’s just about building big concrete structures. Nothing else, either in existence or development, touches it for efficiency.

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            Tim McIntyre March 28, 2013 8:27 pm
          • I have a vision of Scotland completely plastered with wind farms, and to cope with this the Great Glen would be dammed at each end to convert it into the daddy of all pumped storage schemes (with a ship lift at each end).

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            Robert Wakeham March 28, 2013 8:41 pm
  • Your really nit-picking

    “engineers have effectively established the equivalent of two new power stations to connect homes while they repair our distribution and transmission networks”

    It reads correct either way. This is what they have done. Take a trip down and see for yourself what is going on. It’s like a military operation down here. Feel sorry for those without power still but looks to me SSE have been working their butts off.

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    Hughie March 27, 2013 11:20 pm Reply
  • It sounds just like confusion. The media have been reporting that Arran and Kintyre ‘will be back on the grid by Thursday’ several times. This sounds very unlikely with the pylon failures but they will be feeding different parts of their distribution network from generators, they do this quite often when work is going taking place on power lines. I remember being on Islay one time and there seemed to be a generator connected to an electricity pole in almost every field!

    Even if they get most areas reconnected by Thursday, there must be a chance there will be the odd places with no supply, as often happens after a major failure but not discovered until everyone else back on.

    Have any of the wind turbines in the area being damaged by the snow and high winds?

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    Lundavra March 28, 2013 12:29 am Reply
    • Maybe each outlying area should become self reliant with mini hydro electric next to local streams, individual turbines + solar and not rely on the bigger system.

      Although this applies more to central belt any exposed cabling should go underground similar to gas services as there are less problems during winter storms

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      snowy March 28, 2013 11:03 am Reply
      • mini systems are always going to be disconnected in the event of a power failure, everyone who had solar panels on their roofs was cut off during the outage (unless their system is off grid)

        the reason is this if 10 houses all had a solar panel system on their roof feeding their property and back into the grid that continued in the event of a power cut(thats the important point here), in the event of a power outage that cut off the grid but left the 10 houses still connected together but also house 3 disconnected, if the engineer attempts to reconnect house 3 before the grid fault is repaired he is first going to have to disconnect the other 9 houses from the partially active line first, so in effect rather than just reconnecting one house his job has increased hugely, disconnect 9 houses individually, then reconnect all 10

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        steven March 28, 2013 1:00 pm Reply
        • Solar panel systems that are designed to be grid-connected use inverters which don’t work in the absence of the grid supply – there’s no balancing equipment or frequency generator – that’s the reason why they are no help in a power cut.

          Solar panels designed to work off-grid use standalone inverters, and need battery banks for balancing. Needless to say, such systems are much more expensive, so don’t get installed much in places where there is a reasonably reliable grid supply.

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          Tim McIntyre March 28, 2013 3:43 pm Reply
          • the reason they dont have balancing equipment or inverters is if they did it would then cause the safety issue that i am pointing out

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            steven March 28, 2013 8:55 pm
          • a quote from wiki on this

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid-tie_inverter

            “Grid-tie inverters are designed to quickly disconnect from the grid if the utility grid goes down. This is an NEC requirement[citation needed] that ensures that in the event of a blackout, the grid tie inverter will shut down to prevent the energy it transfers from harming any line workers who are sent to fix the power grid”

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            steven March 28, 2013 9:01 pm
      • Not many ‘outlying areas’ have a mains gas supply.

        Running the HV cables underground increases the cost dramatically, electricity costs are increasing enough already to pay for all the expensive and inefficient wind power stations (which don’t seemed to have done much to keep Kintyre and Arran powered).

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        Lundavra March 28, 2013 1:12 pm Reply
      • “Maybe each outlying area should become self reliant with mini hydro electric next to local streams, individual turbines + solar and not rely on the bigger system.”

        It can be done – see Isle of Eigg. However, it’s an incredibly expensive way to provide electricity to a community, makes very poor utilisation of the generating plant, and the improvement in reliability is vanishingly small. What’s to like?

        It was done on Eigg because the enormous cost was (slightly) less enormous than the cost of running an undersea cable to connect the island to the mainland grid system.

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        Tim McIntyre March 28, 2013 3:36 pm Reply
  • I think SEE have done a great job getting power to most of us under the extreme weather conditions that triggered all this problem to start with. It may only be mobile generation but it is 100 times belter than nothing at all.
    I have called SEE emergency line a few times and always been greeted and help with what information they have if they could not help the SEE phoned back to update me on what was happening may have been at the most 1 hour late but with everyone to consider it was good job well done.
    Thanks again SSE for what you have done.

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    iain campbell March 28, 2013 12:11 pm Reply
  • SSE are working tirelessly. Communication and estimated times for power restoration are surely dictated by those on the ground trying to fix the problem. They were working through the night in conditions you would not send your dog out in.

    As a resident in one of the rural communities almost last to be restored, I am just grateful to be on again. I have nothing but praise for SSE at all levels. Some locals have signs outside their house saying Thank you SSE! Others are giving gifts or biscuits and chocolates to the engineers to thank them for every effort they have put in. Those who have witnessed first hand the army of SSE vehicles and men surely could not fault them.

    The spin doctors of any organisation have a job to do. I am sure everyone has just simply done their best in an unprecedented situation.

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    Moyra Paterson March 28, 2013 12:28 pm Reply
  • The applied to the mini wind turbines that some put on their roofs – mainly politicians to show ‘green’ they were! You had to read the small print carefully to find this out but the idea of someone spend a couple of thousand on a small wind turbine then finding their house was just as dark as everyone else’s after a mains failure quite amused me when I realised this.

    There should be good sales in small generators in the area, if nothing else they will mean that people can keep their gas or oil central heating running.

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    Lundavra March 28, 2013 1:09 pm Reply
  • However frustrated the un-named Campbeltown resident may have been, it is wrong of him/her to suggest that SSE were deliberately giving out “false information”. In some places, re-connection was achieved sooner than estimated. In others, technical or access problems slowed things down and consequently hoped-for re-connection times were missed. The situation was changing very quickly and the communications team can hardly be blamed for not always getting it exactly right. I found them open, helpful and honest. Having answered my original enquiry, they then phoned me back with updates, something they didn’t have to do. Moreover, one of the SSE team went into the Argyll FM studio and gave a very full and accurate account of the situation at lunchtime on Wednesday. During that programme the phone rang constantly at the radio station with Kintyre residents praising SSE both for their sterling work to restore power and for the flow of information they provided, making it clear that the source of your “report” is a lone voice expounding a view not widely shared.

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    Loki March 28, 2013 9:17 pm Reply
  • who do i contact about a rebate for when the power went out for 4days here in camobeltown

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    elizabeth moran April 6, 2013 2:45 pm Reply

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