Pontiac politicians fight for better hydro service after 30-hour outage
Officials in the Pontiac region say they'll continue to push Hydro-Québec to come up with a long-term solution after an early February outage during a brutal cold snap left hundreds of customers in the dark.
On Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, people in the western Quebec communities of L'Isle-aux-Allumettes, Chichester and Sheenboro ended up without power for more than 30 hours.
During that time, temperatures dipped to around –40 C. At the height of the outage, more than 1,100 customers couldn't turn the lights on. Some also didn't have access to telephone or internet.
"Our citizens are quite angry, I gotta say," said L'Isle-aux-Allumettes Mayor Corey Spence. "People had to sleep in their vehicles overnight to stay warm. They lost work, they spent money on generators."
Politicians in the area say the power situation in Upper Pontiac has been an issue for years.
The system sits at the end of the line of Hydro-Québec's network, and since the area is so close to the Ontario border the power system is synchronized with the Ontario one. It can also be synchronized with Quebec's electricity network, but Spence said Hydro-Québec has assured him that Ontario offers more of a robust situation.
Hydro-Québec also purchases energy from the Waltham and Chutes-Coulonge generating stations, which belong to the company Evolugen.
Utility says it's offering solutions
Spence and other representatives from the area met with Hydro-Québec last week to discuss what's been done to prevent another situation like the one in February.
In a March 1 news release, the power utility said that unspecified "events" on Ontario's power grid triggered the early February outage and it couldn't access either the Waltham or Chutes-Coulonge stations.
At the same time, Quebec's electricity consumption was reaching a peak due to the frigid temperatures, so it also couldn't get power there.
People had to sleep in their vehicles overnight to stay warm. - L'Isle-aux-Allumettes Mayor Corey Spence
Hydro-Québec said it has now developed a procedure to supply the sector with power from Quebec if an issue arises on the Ontario side.
It said it's also added connections to allow power from generators in the case of an outage, and increased the threshold on one of the lines so that more power can be transported.
The utility has also vowed to improve its reaction time to ensure power gets restored more quickly in the future.
A lack of faith
Spence said the meeting left him cautiously optimistic.
"I want to work with Hydro-Québec to make sure that our network is robust," he said. "But at the same time I will fight for my citizens to make sure that they get what they deserve."
André Fortin, the MNA for Pontiac, said he'll also continue to push for better service.
"I'm still demanding — and I think the local officials [are] as well — for the Upper Pontiac to be synchronized with the rest of the Hydro-Québec grid so they have the same level of service as everybody else in the province," he said
"Having these situations occur creates a trauma for the people in the community. They don't have any real faith in Hydro-Québec at this point."
The region's officials have another meeting scheduled with Hydro-Québec in the coming months.