Hydro-Québec reaches draft agreement to buy energy from Apuiat wind farm

After its president expressed reservations about the 200-megawatt Apuiat wind energy project on Quebec's North Shore, Hydro-Québec, announced Wednesday it has reached a draft agreement with the project's promoters.

Premier Couillard says Apuiat is essential for Quebec's relations with the Innu First Nation

Apuiat, a joint venture between three Innu communities and Boralex Inc., would generate 200 megawatts of electricity. But a final agreement with Hydro-Québec to buy the energy has been put off until after the Quebec election. (Radio-Canada)

Hydro-Québec announced Wednesday it has concluded a draft contract with promoters of the 200-megawatt Apuiat wind turbine project. 

But "out of respect for their respective governance procedures," Hydro said the two sides have agreed to suspend the process leading to the signature of a final agreement until after the Quebec election. 

The commercial elements of the proposed contract were not disclosed and a Hydro-Québec spokesperson said the utility had nothing to say beyond its news release.

The Apuiat project would generate wind power in a partnership with the private renewable energy firm Boralex Inc., which is a minority shareholder, and three Innu communities in the province.

They are Pekuakamiulnuatsh in the Lac Saint-Jean region, ​Essipit ​and Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Renewable Energy Systems (RES) Canada Inc. is providing technical assistance for the wind farm.

Construction of the project has become an election issue, with Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault questioning the value of Hydro-Québec buying more wind energy when the utility already has an unsold surplus of electricity.

On Wednesday, Legault called on Couillard to make the details of the draft agreement public.

"I am asking for more transparence from Philippe Couillard," Legault said."We might have questions to ask [Hydro-Québec president and CEO] Éric Martel who isn't too keen on the idea."

Legault said he agrees the government needs better relations with the Innu First Nation.

"But we are going to produce electricity we do not need?" he said, adding that the government would be paying royalties for a project he says is not needed.

"At some point buying votes has its limits, it seems to me."

Legault pointed out that last week, Martel said he believes the project could cost Hydro between $1.5 billion and $2 billion over 25 years.

Legault also noted that Quebec's auditor-general estimates Hydro-Québec has lost $2.5 billion buying wind energy, which is more costly than hydro power, in the Gaspé region.

The CAQ is not opposed to some mix of hydro power and wind energy, the CAQ leader said, but is concerned about the cost.

Wind project is needed, Couillard says

At a news conference in Montreal's West Island, Premier Philippe Couillard ​said the project was needed to create jobs and economic activity for the Innu Nation.

He said in the 21st century, Quebec can no longer take the natural resources and energy of the Innu without there being "visible and important benefits" in return.

"I'm not just talking about creating a few jobs," Couillard added. "They have to have their share and that is how we are going to succeed in developing northern Quebec.

"We have the choice — either we develop in a spirit of constant confrontation or we develop in cooperation and sharing. And I clearly choose the second [option]."

Couillard was asked whether Martel, who is thought to still have questions about Apuiat, would be president of Hydro after the election.

"We will start the election campaign and we are going to go ahead with the Apuiat project," Couillard said, calling the project "essential for the future of Quebec, the development of northern Quebec."

Energy Minister Pierre Moreau, who supports Apuiat over the objections of Hydro-Québec, told Radio-Canada he was happy "the parties came to an agreement." 

The Apuiat project calls for construction on a 113-square kilometre site about 40 kilometres west of Port-Cartier on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence.

Éric Martel, president and CEO of Hydro-Québec, has expressed reservations about the cost of the Apuiat wind energy project. (Stéphanie MacFarlane/Radio-Canada)

The site is in an area of Nistassinan, claimed by the Innu First Nation of Uashat mak Mani-utenamon in the Sept-Îles region, on public land in the municipality of Port-Cartier

Port-Cartier Mayor Alain Thibault supports the Apuiat project.

"I have always been confident we would reach a negotiated agreement," he said on Wednesday.

With files from Radio-Canada