Community in northern Quebec to make the jump from diesel to hydroelectricity

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Inukjuak has signed a deal with a renewable energy supplier to build a dam on a nearby river and sell electricity to Hydro-Québec. (Matisse Harvey/CBC)
The Inuit community of Inukjuak, in northern Quebec, is looking at making the jump to hydroelectric power in the next few years.

The Pituvik Landholding Corporation in Inukjuak, along with Hydro-Québec (Quebec’s state-owned power company) and the renewable energy company Innergex, signed an agreement Monday to build a 7.5-megawatt dam upstream on the Inukjuak River.

Once up and running, the energy from the dam will replace diesel as the source of power, bringing greener energy to the town of 1,800 on the eastern coast of Hudson Bay, and would be a source of much-needed revenue to help with community projects.

“We always tend to blame the south, that they’re the only greenhouse gas emitters, said Eric Atagotaaluk, president of Pituvik.

“But when we start calculating what our communities emit as well, it’s in the millions [of cubic tonnes] of carbon dioxide we’re going to be reducing, at least for the community of Inukjuak.”

The 14 towns in Nunavik, the Inuit region of northern Quebec, currently get their electricity from diesel-run power plants. Aside from creating greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, the shipping of the fuel to the north by tanker is expensive, and also pollutes.

“This is a historical moment that will benefit the community first, Innergex, Hydro-Québec, but also the planet,” said Éric Filion, president of Hydro-Québec distribution.

Slashing costs

Supplying the town with hydroelectricity will result in a 20 per cent reduction in operating costs for Hydro-Québec, from 50 cents to 40 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Eric Atagotaaluk, from Inukjuak’s land-holding corporation, says the revenue from the project will be used to better the community. (Elias Abboud/CBC)

Businesses and the approximately 500 homes in the community will also benefit from lower costs. Hydro-Québec clients across the province pay about six cents per kWh for the first 40 kWh used in a day. In the north, the rate goes up to 41 cents after that, compared to about nine cents in the rest of the province.

Hydro-Québec will purchase energy produced by the dam from Pituvik and Innergex, which will be responsible for building the dam. They will split the revenue equally, estimated at about $3 million annually.

“Our main goal is to stimulate our local economy,” said Atagotaaluk.

“Being a partner in this project, it’s going to allow us to generate revenue and we will be able to reinvest this revenue and hopefully provide some solutions for the challenges that we face in our communities.”

A measure of hope

Atagotaaluk said the revenue from the sale of electricity will give his community a measure of hope.

“There’s social challenges, economic challenges, financial challenges that we’re going to be tackling when we start seeing these revenues,” he said.

In addition to providing a greener source of energy, the hydro dam will remove a potential source for environmental disaster in the north — the risk of a spill of diesel fuel.

In 2015, 13,500 litres of diesel fuel spilled in Inukjuak during the filling of the local power plants fuel tanks.

“You’re going through three different transfers when you’re transferring diesel from the south to each community [in the north],” said Atagotaaluk. “The risk of spill is always going to be there.”

The ‘run-of-river’ hydro plant will be built about 10 kilometres upstream from the town of Inukjuak, on the Inukjuak River. (Innergex)

Hydro-Québec is also looking at converting the 13 other off-the-grid Nunavik communities to renewable energy sources. But it will use wind and solar projects for the other towns, noting that Inukjuak was the only community with a river that was good enough for a hydro dam.

The utility is already testing systems in other communities in Nunavik, including in Quaqtaq, where it is using solar panels and batteries and is planning on installing windmills.

The dam project still needs approval from Quebec’s energy board. If approved, the generating station is expected to start serving the community by 2022.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Town in Canadian central Arctic to get hybrid solar-diesel power plant, CBC News

Finland: The world could transition entirely to cheap, safe renewable energy before 2050: Finnish study, Yle News

Norway: The quest to turn Norway’s Arctic coast into Northern Europe’s wind power hub, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Italian firm to build giant wind farm in northwestern Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden’s solar industry sees bright future despite shrinking subsidies, Radio Sweden

United States: Despite winter darkness, solar power might work better in rural Alaska than you’d expect, Alaska Dispatch New

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Elias Abboud, CBC News

Elias Abboud, CBC News

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