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System Failure Was Worst Blackout in Quebec History

April 20, 1988

MONTREAL (AP) _ Half a million customers in Quebec were without electricity for several hours Tuesday in the aftermath of the province’s worst power blackout ever.

Engineers at Hydro-Quebec, the provincially owned utility giant, struggled to explain the outage which began at 8:09 p.m. EDT Monday when ice knocked out a major transmission line from Labrador.

The failure left at least 4 million customers in Quebec, New Brunswick and scattered areas of northern Maine and Vermont without electricity for up to seven hours.

With three major power installations still off line Tuesday, Hydro-Quebec appealed to Quebecers to conserve electricity.

Utility spokesman Jacques-Andre Couture said a key question was why an automatic relay switch failed to work when the power lines from Churchill Falls, Labrador, went down. The switch should have confined the outage to northern Quebec.

Another mystery was why a power station at Beauharnois near Montreal continued to feed power to New York state, instead of fulfilling its role as a backup power supply for the Quebec system.

Couture said the blackout cost Hydro-Quebec $3 million ($2.4 million U.S.) in revenue.

It was the tenth systemwide outage for Hydro-Quebec in 15 years. Officials conceded that neighboring New England utilities have a better record.

’They are designing their system with criteria which are more severe than ours,″ said Jean-Claude Roy, a Hydro-Quebec vice president.

He said the company plans to spend $600 million ($486 million U.S.) to upgrade the Quebec grid.

Quebec Energy Minister John Caccia said he is not worried that the incident will damage Hydro-Quebec’s growing export market in New England and New York.

″I didn’t get any phone calls from our American clients,″ he said.

The initial outage stranded hundreds of passengers in the Montreal subway and in elevators. The National Hockey League playoff game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins was plunged into temporary darkness at the Montreal Forum, but resumed under emergency lighting. Montreal won, 5-2.

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