Hydro-Quebec defends its grid after storm plunges thousands into darkness

The vast majority of Quebecers who have lost power during a multi-day storm system can expect their lights and heating to be back on Wednesday, says the director of Hydro-Quebec.

At some point or another in the past few days, more than 560,000 customers lost power as Quebec was hit with snow showers and strong winds during a storm that first struck Thursday night.

As of Monday morning, around 70,000 Hydro-Quebec customers were still without power.

“Today and tomorrow are going to be long,” Hydro-Quebec President and CEO Sophie Brochu said during a news conference Monday in what was, for some, her fourth day without power.

Brochu defended the stability of the power grid, which Quebec’s auditor general said in a recent report is performing worse and worse despite efforts by the Crown corporation to reduce the number of blackouts since 2020.

Instead, the number of outages is rising amid a “sharp decline” in service provided to millions of customers across the province, according to Guylaine Leclerc annual report published on December 7.

The number of power outages over the past decade has increased from 36,314 in 2012 to 42,035 in 2021.

According to Hydro-Quebec, the number of outages from the storm last weekend was unavoidable.

“Any team facing 100 or 120 km/h winds would be in the same situation. We are dealing with an extreme weather situation,” Brochu told reporters during a press conference shortly before noon on Monday.

“There is no link” between the cuts and the state of the electrical system, he said.

Hydro crews are taking a “surgical” approach to restoring power to remaining customers, reporters were told on Monday. Of the roughly 2,000 outages, about half of them involve five or fewer customers, complicating restoration efforts, Hydro-Quebec said.

“So [we’re] really working very hard to restore very few people [at a time]. That’s why it takes longer,” Brochu said, adding that in some cases crews have to use snowmobiles to reach rural areas affected by the storm.

Crews from other parts of the province were deployed to assist in the restoration operation, but the Crown corporation said it could not give a timetable for when power will be restored to everyone.

“We can’t guarantee anything because there are some places we haven’t seen yet. We’re starting to fly helicopters over certain regions, so until we get a glimpse of some of the blackouts, it’s going to be too early for me to say absolutely. [when] we know exactly when we will be back,” Brochu said.

THE NURSE HAS CHRISTMAS OFF, SPENDS HOLIDAYS IN THE DARK

As of 1:30 p.m. Monday, the regions with the most blackouts were Quebec City (21,155 customers), Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean (10,257 customers, and Côte-Nord (8,778 customers). Only a few hundred people on the island of Montreal had no power on Monday.

Louise Bissonette was among about 1,000 customers in the eastern townships still without power Monday.

The nurse had hoped to finally have a Christmas off with her family this year at her home in Sutton, Quebec, but her vacation plans were ruined on Dec. 23 when she woke up at 6 a.m. with no power.

Louise Bissonnette with her family. (photo sent)

Instead of enjoying their usual Christmas Eve meal, her family gathered in the dark around a table of chicken wings that she cooked in a deep fryer connected to a generator and some sushi.

“The last four years with COVID and everything, it hasn’t been a very good Christmas. And this is the second Christmas we’ve had no power,” he told CTV News on Monday during a Skype call from his car, the “warmest”. place to be right now.”

“It’s a bit disappointing. Thankfully we’re all healthy. Nurses, that’s our top priority. We’re all healthy and everyone’s doing well. I was really looking forward to a more normal Christmas after COVID and all, and this won’t happen this Christmas. But I’m thankful I get to see my guys for a while and they’re all safe.”

He waits for the power to be restored so he can take a hot shower in his own house before going back to work tomorrow.

Hydro-Quebec said in a notice to customers on Christmas morning that “the worst of the weather is behind us.”

“Please note that service restoration times shown on the map are approximate and may vary due to the number of outages and the type of damage. Our teams are working to restore service as quickly as possible.”

Hydro-Quebec said on Twitter that in some locations, crews may be called in to repair power lines, but are then dispatched to another location that is deemed a priority or an emergency.

With archives from Rob Lurie of CTV News Montreal and The Canadian Press

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