PLANT

Hydro Quebec needs more time following fierce autumn storm

Repair work was proving complicated in more remote areas not accessible by traditional equipment.

November 4, 2019   by Sidhartha Banerjee

MONTREAL — Hydro-Quebec’s president said the number of clients without power will drop to less than 100,000 by late Sunday, with the remaining, more complex cases to take a few more days to fix as the utility deals with the aftermath of a powerful autumn storm that hit late last week.

Eric Martel, president of Hydro-Quebec, thanked Quebecers for their patience given that some had been without power for more than 48 hours since Nov. 1, when rain and strong winds of 100 km/h struck the province.

Martel told reporters significant progress had been made in bringing the number of clients without power from 990,000 at its peak on Nov. 1 in the afternoon down to 119,000 nearly 48 hours later.

“We’ll be under 100,000 by midnight,” Martel said. “We know there are clients where we will need Monday, Tuesday, but it’s clear we’ll be under 100,000.”

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Crews were working around the clock but repair work was proving complicated in more remote areas not accessible by traditional equipment.

Of the remaining cases, Martel said about 70 per cent were cases where successful repair work would mean roughly 20 clients at a time would be hooked up to the grid again, slowing down that steady progress.

Spokesman Francis Labbe explained earlier Sunday those harder to reach areas had their own set of challenges.

“We’re getting close to places where the population is more isolated, so accessing the outages is more complicated, and sometimes the work we have to do before we even start to repair the line is major,” Labbe said. “For example, our crews often have to act as lumberjacks before they can even repair the line _ lots of branches and trees are down.”

Martel said the remaining outages were mainly in the Monteregie area south of Montreal, the Eastern Townships area including the cities of Granby and Sherbrooke, the Laurentians and Lanaudiere region north of Montreal, and areas near Trois-Rivieres and Drummondville and the Beauce region south of Quebec City.

The utility said in some areas, entire segments of the system need to be rebuilt, while in others transformers and poles need to be replaced, with equipment being shipped from across the province. Repairing poles can take between five and seven hours.

The broken electrical poles and downed power lines are nothing compared to the province’s 1998 ice storm, which plunged 1.4 million clients into darkness for several weeks.

Martel had been questioned repeatedly about a comparison of the two incidents and said the situations were completely different, noting that with the ice storm, transmission towers collapsed from the weight of the ice.

“We’re in situation where we’re not talking about weeks to bring back electricity, we’re talking about hours and days because it’s the distribution system that’s affected _ the poles and the lines that lead to homes,” Martel said.

The utility said nearly 1,400 employees were on the ground and reinforcements have arrived from Michigan, Ontario and the Maritimes with more reinforcements to come on Monday.

At an afternoon briefing, Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonatan Julien said he was confident that 90 per cent of clients would be hooked up and preached patience as those remaining cases would require more time.