Hydro-Québec would like to correct the misinformation contained in the article titled “Pannes d’électricité : un réseau vieillissant” [Power outages: An aging grid], which was published in Le Devoir December 27 and signed by Jean-Robert Sansfaçon.
Major investments in the distribution grid
The editorialist states that Québec invested hundreds of millions of dollars to strengthen the supply of power to its economic and financial hub after the 1998 ice storm, but that it has done nothing else. That is far from the truth. In fact, Hydro-Québec invests in its distribution system every year. In the past 10 years, investments in the grid, which were made throughout the province, totaled over $7 billion.
A significant portion of these investments were made well after the completion, in 2006, of the grid reinforcement program initiated after the 1998 ice storm. It is worth recalling that this program led to investments of $200 million to increase the robustness of facilities in the zones deemed most likely to experience major accumulations of ice, namely the regions south of the Montréal and Québec metropolitan areas as well as the Gaspésie and Côte-Nord regions.
Moreover, the standard aimed at increasing system robustness has been applied throughout Québec since 2007. To date, this has translated into additional investments of $140 million.
Higher investments than in generating facilities
Claims that Hydro-Québec underinvests in its transmission and distribution facilities to focus on dam construction instead are equally false. The figures speak for themselves: in the past five years, investments in the transmission and distribution systems totaled $10 billion, compared to $8.9 billion in the generating fleet. In the last two years, transmission and distribution investments far surpassed those made in the generation sector, as could easily have been verified in Hydro-Québec’s annual reports:
• 2012: $2.27 billion was invested in the transmission and distribution grids, compared to $1.5 billion in generating facilities;
• 2011: $2.25 billion was invested in the transmission and distribution grids, compared to $1.5 billion in generating facilities.
Sustained investment in the line-clearance pruning program
We must also refute the editorialist’s claim that tree pruning operations have been scaled back. On the contrary, the line-clearance pruning program was stepped up considerably from 2006 to 2009 and has since being sustained at the same level year after year, with an annual budget of about $60 million.
Undergrounding: An effective solution, but not for the entire province
On this issue as well, clarifications are in order. Contrary to claims made in the article, undergrounding is not feasible in vast, sparsely populated areas such as the Laurentides, Estrie and Montérégie regions, where the main weather events that caused power outages took place in the past year. Undergrounding, which costs 10 times more than the construction of overhead lines, can represent an effective solution for systems deployed over short distances or in high-density urban areas.
Moreover, underground lines come with their own challenges, especially during flooding or heavy rains, as New York City and Toronto have recently experienced.
A robust, reliable grid
Hydro-Québec (hydro.qc.ca) would like to reiterate that its grid is robust and reliable, and that it will always make the investments required to ensure its facilities remain at the leading edge of technology. It is in the company’s best interest to do so, since the profitability of its regulated transmission and distribution activities is predicated on these investments.
In short, Mr. Sansfaçon’s claim of recurring underinvestments is not founded.