Several St. James businesses are being plagued by power outages – forcing at least one medical clinic to look at more reliable power sources than what Manitoba Hydro offers.

Since March 2012, the area has experienced 17 power outages.

The outages are more than just an inconvenience for people who work at Dawson Dental Centre.

Nancy Bollenback works at the centre and said when the power goes out, the entire dental clinic is pitch black.

“If you’ve got a chair and the chair is tilted back, they run on power so you can’t even sit the person up,” said Bollenback.

The unpredictable power outages have also happened in the middle of dental procedures.

“We've had at times where we've actually had to put in a temporary filling with a flashlight because you can't leave somebody with an exposed tooth,” said Bollenback.

The outages range from a few minutes – like on Oct. 3 when the power was out for 28 minutes – to several hours, like on March 2, when the power was out in the area for 571 minutes.

Bollenback said the blackouts are affecting patients, their care and the office’s bottom line.

And the dental office isn’t alone.

A nearby medical clinic on Portage Avenue has also been affected by outages in the area.

“We can’t do anything. We’re frozen,” said Kathy White of Westwood Medical Clinic. “Patients that are coming in for appointments can’t be seen because there are no lights in the room. There’s no computer system to update their charts.”

Now the clinic is considering installing a costly generator to deal with the problem.

“It was about $40,000 and on top of that it would be the upkeep,” said White.

But an official from Manitoba Hydro said that’s not recommended. The costs of installing and running one outweigh the benefits, and power isn’t out long, said Glenn Schneider of Manitoba Hydro.

Schneider explained it isn’t a single issue that’s causing the outages.

“There are wildlife contacts, a couple of transformers that blew, a couple of underground faults, a lightning strike. There are a variety of things,” said Schneider. “(There is) no one thing that was the primary cause.”

He said the outages are simply coincidental but acknowledged the city’s systems are out of date.

“There’s no question that our systems in the city have been built in the 1950s and 1960s,” said Schneider. “It’s coming of an age now where we’re going to have to replace lots of it.”

Those updates include a St. James power station on Portage Avenue. It’s estimated to cost about $88 million and Manitoba Hydro expects the upgrade to be complete by 2016.