Hydro-Québec plugs into Magdalen Islands to slash oil dependency

Hydro-Québec plans to build a 220-kilometre, underwater cable to connect the province's main power grid to the Magdalen Islands, which currently relies solely on a diesel power plant for its energy.

220-kilometre, underwater electric cable would connect the islands to hydro-electric grid for first time

The Magdalen Islands currently depends on its diesel power plant to generate electricity for its 12,000 residents. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

The Magdalen Islands is expected to be weaned off its total reliance on oil energy by 2025, as Hydro-Québec plans to connect the peninsula to the province's hydro-electric grid for the first time.

The archipelago, located in the heart of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, currently depends on a diesel power plant to generate electricity for its 12,000 permanent residents and businesses.

But Hydro-Québec announced Friday it is rolling out a major project over the next seven years transitioning the Magdalen Islands toward greener energy sources, such as hydro-electricity.

It is installing a cable that will connect the islands to the Gaspé region coast, according to Éric Filion, Hydro-Québec's production president.

The wire cable spanning nearly 200 kilometres will run underground and under the bed of the St. Lawrence River.

"It will be like a mini Hydro-Québec," said local MNA Germain Chevarie. "This will add value to the Magdalen Islands' reputation when it comes to its environmental values."

Chevarie compared the project to a similar one in Lac-Mégantic earlier this year, where a microgrid will be installed in the municipality's rebuilt downtown.

The diesel power plant will be maintained to ensure the region has an alternative source of energy in case of a power outage on the main grid. (Luc Paradis/Radio-Canada)

Seismic testing will be carried out over the next 18 months to measure what the project could cost, before it's submitted to the province's energy board. Filion said the project could save the province up to 20 to 30 per cent in operating costs.

Minimizing job loss

The 80 people working at the existing diesel plant on the islands will keep their jobs by working for the new energy plan, he said.

The diesel plant will be maintained to ensure it can kick in if the central electric grid is down or is undergoing repairs.

Filion said Hydro-Québec also plans to diversify the region's energy consumption.

Booms line the port waters in Cap-aux-Meules in the Magdalen Islands in an effort to contain spilled diesel that might have leaked into the port. (Radio-Canada)

A few dozen buildings will be connected to each other through a central grid, fuelled by "a cocktail of new technologies" said Filion, including solar panels, storage batteries and outdoor plugs for electric cars.

About 100,000 litres of diesel were spilled near the Cap-aux-Meules harbour in 2014 after a pipeline leak.

Hydro-Québec was later charged with violating provincial environmental regulations in connection with the oil spill.

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