20 years later: How Bruce Power helped Ontario recover from the 2003 blackout

Anyone who is old enough remembers exactly where they were when Ontario’s lights went out and air conditioners ground to a halt, 20 years ago today, on a hot, muggy afternoon.

At 4:11 p.m. on Aug. 14, 2003, a series of power surges over a 12-second period triggered a cascade of shutdowns at more than 100 generating plants throughout eight U.S. states and Ontario, resulting in the largest blackout in North American history.

An estimated 50 million people, including 10 million Ontario residents and businesses, were suddenly without power when 61,800 Megawatts (MW) of generation disappeared, in what was ultimately deemed to be the result of inadequate tree trimming in Ohio, but also of a fragile power grid.

Bruce Power led the recovery of Ontario’s electricity system, with three of Bruce B’s four units reconnected to the provincial grid within hours of the event, bringing power to Ontarians through the Bruce-Milton transmission line, which was completed by Hydro One just the year prior. 

Former Ontario Premier Erie Eves visited Bruce Power shortly after the blackout, saying, “Nobody (worked) harder than you people have, and you did an excellent job. I want you to know that we understand that and appreciate what you’ve done.”

Twenty years later, the province’s electricity grid is in much better shape from a reliability stand-point, especially after Bruce Power returned its four Bruce A units to service over the decade following the blackout, providing reliable, baseload power and allowing the province to phase out coal-fired generation. The province is now transitioning to a clean-energy future and has made commitments to refurbish its nuclear fleet and is looking to expand to meet future needs.

“Since 2003, Bruce Power has more than doubled its output of clean, reliable energy, serving people, businesses and hospitals across Ontario and continues to grow,” said Mike Rencheck, Bruce Power’s President and CEO. “The province has made great strides since the 2003 blackout to ensure that our grid is clean and reliable, and it has made commitments to ensuring that will continue as electricity demand continues to grow in the decades to come.”

In December 2015, Bruce Power reached an agreement to advance its Life-Extension Program and Major Component Replacement Project to refurbish its nuclear fleet and secure the site’s operation until 2064. In addition, Bruce Power is investing in its existing infrastructure through a series of incremental power recovery projects under Project 2030, which aims to increase annual power output to upwards of 7,000 MW for the 2030s.

The Ontario government recently released its Powering Ontario’s Growth plan, stating that, “We need to act today to ensure we have the energy we need to power economic growth and electrification over the next three decades while maintaining our clean electricity advantage.”

As part of its plan, the government also recently announced its support to advance the long-term planning and consultation work required to explore nuclear expansion options at the Bruce nuclear site and beyond. Collaborating with communities, we can provide economic opportunities and clean energy with made-in-Canada solutions, then supply these to the world. 

“Bruce Power is here for the people of Ontario, just like it was 20 years ago,” Rencheck added. “We’re working to extend the life of our units and optimize our existing assets so we can meet the rapidly growing demand for clean energy. We’re excited about indigenous/community engagement and involvement as we consider what the future might hold for the Bruce site and explore further opportunities to increase our output.”

About Bruce Power

Bruce Power is an electricity company based in Bruce County, Ontario. We are powered by our people. Our 4,200 employees are the foundation of our accomplishments and are proud of the role they play in safely delivering clean, reliable nuclear power to families and businesses across the province and cancer-fighting medical isotopes around the world. Bruce Power has worked hard to build strong roots in Ontario and is committed to protecting the environment and supporting the communities in which we live. Formed in 2001, Bruce Power is a Canadian-owned partnership of TC Energy, OMERS, the Power Workers’ Union and The Society of United Professionals. Learn more at www.brucepower.com and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.