The long road of 2 cities in northern Quebec to break the dependence on diesel

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It’s a challenge that many northern communities face: how to get a cleaner source of electricity and heat.

Canada’s remote communities are still heavily dependent on diesel for heating and power generation, says a 2020 report by the Pembina Institute, and are responsible for burning more than 682 million liters of diesel each year.

Three million liters of this quantity are burned each year by the small twin Cree and Inuit communities of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik, in northern Quebec.

Now, with a joint renewable energy project in the latter part of an environmental assessment, they are one step closer to a significant reduction in their reliance on diesel.

“Climate change affects communities in many ways,” said Matthew Mukash, president of the Kuujjuaraapik-Whapmagoostui Renewable Energy Corporation (KWREC), which originated the project and has been pushing the idea since 2011.

Climate change affects communities in several ways.– Matthew Mukash, President of KWREC

Both communities are accessible only by air, located approximately 1,200 kilometers north of Montreal, at the mouth of the Grande Rivière de la Baleine. The combined population is just over 1,700 people.

“It’s getting warmer. We don’t have freezing winters like we had, say, 30 years ago. And that’s bad for hunters because the ice conditions are very dangerous,” Mukash said.

Mukash sees the hybrid power plant project as a way for his community to be part of the solution and to inspire other northern communities to do the same.

If approved, the first phase of the project will see two wind turbines installed six kilometers from the city on a hill with “high winds” and a hybrid power plant built to provide electricity to rapidly growing communities. There are also plans to eventually add a biomass component to the power plant.

Public consultation Wednesday

The two wind turbines would be installed on a hill six kilometers outside the villages. The developers also hope to add a biomass component to the power grid in the future. (KWREC)

Mukash and Anthony Ittoshat, vice-president of KWREC and mayor of Kuujjuuarapik, are scheduled to appear before the Environmental and Social Impact Review Committee (COMEX) on Wednesday for a half-day of in-person public consultations at the Whapmagoostui assembly site and in line .

This part of the COMEX hearing is the next step in the approval process and key to moving the project forward.

“This [Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik Hybrid Power Plant project] is important to us since Cree and Inuit cultures and ways of life are based on the land,” Ittoshat said in a statement.

Long battle to protect the Great Whale River

The wind farm and power plant project would also mark a milestone in Mukash’s lifelong fight to protect the Great Whale River.

In the early 1990s, Mukash was the chief of Whapmagoostui as former Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa advanced the dam project on eight major rivers, including the Grande Rivière de la Baleine.

Named James Bay II or Great Whale Project and launched in 1986, the $12.6 billion project would have affected an ecosystem the size of France.

The Cree and Inuit of Whapmagoostui and Kuujjuarapik have launched legal challenges and lobbying efforts in the United States to try to stop him.

In 1990, the Cree and Inuit of northern Quebec traveled more than 2,000 kilometers in five weeks – by dog ​​sled across the frozen bay, by road and by river – to downtown Manhattan in a campaign against the Great Whale River Dam Project. (Cree Cultural Institute)

On Earth Day in 1990, 60 of them paddled through downtown Manhattan in a hybrid canoe dubbed the Odeyak to pressure US legislatures to roll back plans to buy electricity generated by the Great Whale project.

After years, their efforts paid off, and in 1992, then New York Governor Mario Cuomo ordered the New York Power Authority to cancel its contract with Hydro-Quebec.

“When we opposed the Great Whale project, we were always asked, ‘Do you have a sustainable alternative to hydroelectric development?'” Mukash said, adding that even then the Cree and Inuit dreamed of a more sustainable source of electricity.

Better relationship with Hydro-Québec

The hybrid plant would replace a 70-year-old outdated diesel plant originally built by the military and now operated by Hydro-Quebec.

Anthony Ittoshat, left, vice-president of KWREC and mayor of Kuujjuuarapik, and Matthew Mukash, former Chief of Whapmagoostui and former Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, are behind the hybrid power plant project. (submitted by Matthew Mukash)

“Right now Hydro-Quebec can’t even connect our arena to the grid because the power plant doesn’t have the capacity,” Mukash said.

Hydro-Quebec is supporting KWREC with technical expertise, facility upgrades and the installation in 2021 of a 900 kilowatt battery storage system, according to utility spokeswoman Gabrielle Leblanc.

“The wind project developed by KWREC is part of Hydro-Quebec’s strategy to partially or fully convert its off-grid systems to cleaner energy,” Leblanc said in an email response to a request for information.

Hydro-Québec has also agreed to pay for and build a seven-kilometre, 25-kilovolt line to connect the wind farm to the thermal power station.

Economical consequences

KWREC and Hydro Quebec are still negotiating an agreement for the utility to purchase the electricity produced by the project, which Leblanc said is the utility’s “preferred approach.”

“[This] makes it possible to involve host communities in the energy transition in addition to promoting their development and economic spinoffs,” said Leblanc.

Tugliq Energy is already in the third phase of the installation of its wind farm at the Raglan mine in the far north of Quebec. The first turbine entered service in 2014. The first and second turbines allow Glencore, owner of the nickel mine, to save around 4.4 million liters of diesel fuel per year.

Tugliq Energy installed its first wind turbine at the Raglan mine near Salluit in northern Quebec in 2014. (Tugliq Energy)

Mukash says the wind farm is just the beginning of the economic benefits that the Cree-Inuit partnership could bring to both communities.

“There is also job creation… and economic opportunity,” Mukash said, adding that they also plan to add biomass energy components to the power plant.

“This is a very, very important project not only for the present, but also for the future of the community,” Mukash said.

“Not only for wind projects, but also for other economic development projects in the region.”

Mukash said much of the funding is in place and if the project is approved by COMEX, the Quebec government and the Quebec Energy Commission, it could be operational by 2025.

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