Long blackouts expose Quebec’s unpreparedness for energy transition: expert – Montreal | Daily News Byte

Long blackouts expose Quebec’s unpreparedness for energy transition: expert – Montreal

 | Daily News Byte


Long power outages that left some Quebecers in the dark for days exposed the province’s unpreparedness for the coming green energy transition, an expert said Wednesday.

The province needs to improve its infrastructure and emergency planning as Quebec society increasingly replaces fossil fuels with electricity to meet emissions targets, Normand Musso, scientific director of the Institut de l’energie Trottier at Polytechnic Montreal, said in an interview.

On Wednesday afternoon, more than 14,000 Hydro-Québec customers were still without power, about five days after the winter storm hit eastern Canada. The utility’s outage map showed more than 4,600 customers without power in the Quebec City area, as well as about 2,300 in the Cote-Nord region and roughly 1,800 in Saguenai-Lac-St-Jean.

The long outage “shows the point at which we are still fragile and not ready,” he said. Mousseau, who is also a professor of physics at the University of Montreal, added that the impact of the outage will only worsen as the province’s reliance on electricity increases.

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“People used to get into their cars to warm up overnight or for a few hours, but when we all have electric cars, we won’t be able to do that,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Working day and night’: 15,000 people still in the dark after Quebec winter storm

Trotier said Hydro-Québec should consider a program to gradually bury more of its transmission lines, when it makes sense. The province should also develop a “real resilience plan” that could include installing powerful batteries in certain areas to maintain some power when power lines go down, he said.

An auditor general’s report in December found that Hydro-Québec’s services had become less reliable and that the provincial crown corporation was not fully equipped to deal with the challenges of an aging network. The report found that the average length of outages increased by 63 percent between 2012 and 2021, when major weather events were excluded.

An $800 million plan launched in 2020 to reduce the number of service outages has only been partially implemented, the report said.

Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu told reporters Monday that extreme weather — not weaknesses in the grid — left hundreds of thousands of Quebecers without power at the height of the storm that began in the province on Dec. 23.

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“Put any equipment in front of 120 kilometer winds and we’d be in the same situation,” she said.

READ MORE: Canadians still feeling the effects of winter storm with flight delays, power outages

The utility, Brochu added, has also launched a program to make up for years of insufficient infrastructure maintenance, including the cutting of trees and other vegetation near power lines.

Hydro-Québec promised that the vast majority of customers would have power restored by the end of Wednesday, but also said it could not provide an end date for all outages.

Musso said the auditor general’s report clearly shows that Hydro-Québec has underinvested in equipment maintenance. He said the utility used the cost as an excuse to resist burying the power lines. The utility should take the opportunity to backfill the lines when the streets are open for road work, he added.

However, he said the government lacks overall mitigation and crisis management strategies to protect citizens during outages, adding that Hydro-Québec cannot be blamed for the province’s failures.

For example, he said, better land-use planning could reduce urban sprawl and ensure crews have easier access to energy infrastructure; also, he said, the Department of Public Safety could develop a more detailed plan for obtaining emergency power and heat.

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He said it is up to the municipalities, the province and Hydro-Québec to come together and develop the right strategy to ensure that Quebecers are not left in the dark and cold.

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