You would possibly assume that what with having Canada’s largest hydroelectric capability, offering nearly 100 per cent of the its electrical energy, together with exports, a brand new $600-million wind energy undertaking is the very last thing Quebec would want.
That was precisely what specialists have been saying when Premier François Legault cancelled Apuiat, a non-public however government-supported wind undertaking in Northern Quebec in 2018.
However now because the province relaunches the undertaking, energy specialists say an funding in wind will really improve the worth of Hydro-Québec’s present hydroelectric infrastructure.
Past offering clear electrical energy amid rising demand, they will act like huge grid-scale batteries, addressing the Achilles heel of intermittent, renewable vitality sources comparable to wind and photo voltaic: what do you do when the wind does not blow or the solar does not shine?
A change of coronary heart
There may be quite a lot of politics in Legualt’s change of coronary heart, however a contributing issue is the election of U.S. President Biden and his new inexperienced agenda, mentioned Pierre-Olivier Pineau, chair in vitality sector administration at Montreal’s Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC).
As lately as final summer time, the Quebec premier downplayed the possibilities of restarting the Apuiat wind undertaking due to the province’s persevering with glut of electrical energy.
“I need to be very clear,” Legault informed Radio-Canada final July, “We nonetheless have a [power] surplus at Hydro-Québec, so we’re not but able to launch.”
Nonetheless, there may be the prospect of a rising want for low-carbon electrical energy — for export to the U.S. and elsewhere, and to be used at house to energy electrical autos and different efforts to decarbonize.
Add to that, the worth of wind energy plunging and the worth of constructing new hydroelectric dams on the rise, and final week the outlook modified.
“After many months of labor with our Indigenous companions, I’m proud to current a win-win undertaking for the Innu communities, for Québec and for the planet,” mentioned Legault in asserting the relaunch. “This is good news for all the wind vitality sector, wherein prices have come down significantly.”
The undertaking will likely be half owned by Boralex, a Quebec firm that has grown into a world inexperienced vitality large, with the opposite half owned by north shore Innu communities.
“For the primary time, throughout our nation, we’re the grasp builders of a giant undertaking of profit to the Innu and to Quebecers,” mentioned Mike Mckenzie, chief of the Innu group of Uashat mak Mani-utenam, in final week’s announcement that the undertaking was again on observe.
The wind growth will present much-needed stimulus to the Quebec financial system and easy relations between the Innu communities and Quebec Metropolis.
However based on Richard Carlson, director of vitality coverage for the nationwide NGO Air pollution Probe who has an extended historical past of learning the electrical energy market, the undertaking will even draw consideration to the untapped wealth of Quebec’s present hydroelectric infrastructure as a treasured system of energy storage and supply a working instance for different elements of Canada, together with British Columbia and Manitoba.
“In locations like B.C., Manitoba, Quebec, Norway, Sweden, these are actually reservoir techniques,” mentioned Carlson, referring to the sort of hydroelectric energy the place a dam can maintain again huge portions of water.
“You’ve gotten management over whenever you use that water.”
Wind cheaper than constructing new dams
The price of wind and solar energy have fallen a lot over the past decade that they’re much cheaper than constructing new hydroelectric dams — “The price declines have been astounding,” mentioned Carlson — however they’ve the drawback of being intermittent.
“The solar does not shine at evening,” he mentioned somebody all the time tells him on Twitter when he mentions photo voltaic’s price benefits, “As if I weren’t conscious of that.”
The benefit of mixing less-expensive intermittent energy with Quebec’s present system of hydroelectric energy dams is that it permits the ability utility to make use of up a budget wind energy as it’s produced whereas the water behind the dams is retained, on the prepared.
“You are saving the extra useful [hydro] electrical energy for when it is wanted and utilizing lower-cost types of electrical energy when they’re accessible,” mentioned Carlson.
In locations not as fortunate as Quebec, together with Ontario, there are hydro techniques that include a continuing move of water by the Nice Lakes or down a river that have to be used to provide electrical energy instantly or wasted.
That’s the reason Ontario constructed the Sir Adam Beck pumped storage facility at Niagara Falls and why it’s contemplating others, together with a multi-billion-dollar TC Power proposal close to Collingwood, about 140 km north of Toronto.
“The TC Power pumped hydro undertaking could be a method to replicate [the Quebec system] with a much-higher price,” mentioned Carlson.
Regardless of his many contacts with Quebec’s electrical energy system, Pineau at HEC was caught abruptly by the announcement of the wind undertaking.
Pineau mentioned he thinks one cause for the deal was to assist Hydro-Québec polish its picture within the U.S. the place it has been criticized for failing to respect First Nations rights. One other, he mentioned, was to stimulate Quebec’s wind trade that’s presently hungry for contracts.
‘A battery in itself’
Regardless that Hydro-Québec’s dam-building prices have been a few of the lowest on the earth, Pineau expects no extra will likely be constructed, as a result of they’re a lot extra expensive than wind and photo voltaic are actually.
However they nonetheless confer a selected benefit to Quebec as electrical energy demand rises.
“Quebec is especially nicely positioned … to retailer it and export it,” mentioned Pineau. “Hydro-Québec is a battery in itself with its dams.”
Simply as Norway has been described as Europe’s battery, Quebec may play the same profitable function in a northeastern North America because it turns into more and more depending on low cost, intermittent, inexperienced energy sources.
“Quebec is a superb place for this, however there’s additionally enormous alternatives for utilizing hydro energy from B.C. to assist Alberta and hydro energy from Manitoba to assist Saskatchewan decarbonize,” mentioned Carlson. “So it isn’t only a Quebec story however there are methods of utilizing this throughout Canada.”
Comply with Don Pittis @don_pittis