'Tofino' time: substation work on Vancouver Island has time running more slowly


Upgrades to substations affecting electricity frequency and clocks for Tofino, Ucluelet residents

It's known as one of Canada's best places to relax and take in the sights of incredible west coast beaches, where time seems to slow down as you enjoy the roaring surf and unwind.

For residents of Tofino and Ucluelet, the illusion that time is passing slowing is even more apparent this month: work at nearby substations means electric and digital clocks are running more slowly than normal. About 5 to 15 minutes slow each day, to be exact.

We've been doing extensive work at Great Central Lake substation, near Port Alberni, and Long Beach substation. With the work close to wrapping up, crews have had to take some power lines out of service to complete the work safely.

To keep the lights on for the West Coast, we're delivering power directly from the Ash River generating station. It's got all the electricity they need, with a subtle difference.

Generating station delivers power at slightly different frequency

Normally, Tofino and Ucluelet are connected to the grid where variations in power frequency are very stable. When we need to feed power directly from the generating station, there are minor variations in operating frequency, and that affects electric clocks.

It's not the first time a community has been supplied directly from a generating station. We call it "islanding" – isolating a particular station or group of customers from the rest of the grid. It's one of the ways that we keep power on during storms and power outages, by switching how we deliver power. The normal grid operates at that 60 Hertz frequency, but the frequency of an islanded grid fluctuates. and in this case runs just a little below that 60 Hertz frequency.

Clocks are designed to operate on a particular frequency of exactly 60 hertz; it's how they keep time. So when the slower-frequency power from the generating station is delivered to your clock, the result is what appears to be slower time.

Upgrades will meet growing demand for power on the west coast

The islanding is necessary for the work going on as part of the Long Beach Area Reinforcement project. It's a big project underway to replace equipment that's about 50 years old.

The West Coast is currently served by older equipment and transformers which are at capacity, and can't keep up with the growing demand for power.

So we're upgrading the Great Central Lake substation and the Long Beach substation. It will ensure reliable power on the coast for another 30 to 50 years, but it means we need to de-energize the existing feed into Great Central Lake substation to complete the work safely.

That work is expected to wrap up by September 24 and we'll be able to bring the transmission lines back into service, and the power supply will be brought back into the integrated system.

And that means Tofino time will be back in line with the rest of us.