CAQ government looking to abandon $600M wind farm on Quebec's North Shore

The CAQ is trying to find the best way to get out of a wind turbine project on Quebec's North Shore that was backed by the former Liberal government.

'This project isn't profitable,' says minister of energy and natural resources

The Apuiat wind turbine project was drafted by the previous Liberal government to produce 200 megawatts of electricity on Quebec's North Shore. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The Quebec government wants out of the contentious Apuiat wind farm project and has tapped Hydro-Québec to come up with an exit strategy, Radio-Canada has learned.

The Apuiat project, first proposed in 2015, is to produce an estimated 200 megawatts annually from about 50 wind turbines on Quebec's North Shore, near the town of Port-Cartier.

Backed by the former Liberal government, the $600-million project was highly criticized by the CAQ's François Legault during the election campaign.

"We're not going to oblige Hydro-Québec to produce electricity we do not need," Legault said Sept. 13, during the first televised debate on Radio-Canada.

The minister of energy and natural resources, Jonatan Julien, said the CAQ government's position hasn't changed.

"In a context where we have an energy surplus, this project isn't profitable," said Julien Tuesday.

Innu consortium demands meeting

The wind farm is being developed by Boralex, a private renewable energy firm, in partnership with nine Innu communities on the North Shore and in the Lac-Saint-Jean region. Under the proposal, Hydro-Québec would buy electricity from the consortium.

During the leaders' debate on Sept. 13, CAQ leader François Legault criticized then Premier Philippe Couillard for moving forward with the Apuiat wind farm project. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Hydro-Québec concluded a draft contract with promoters in August but agreed to wait until after the Oct. 1 election to finalize the deal.

The government will now "take the time to meet with the involved parties and First Nations before making our decision final, " said Julien.

Société Apuiat, which represents the Innu stakeholders, and Boralex released a joint statement Tuesday, saying they were "disappointed to learn of the government's intention regarding our project" without having had a chance to present it to the new government.

The regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, said in the Innu promoters of the wind farm project must be involved in decision-making around the project's future. (Cathy Senay/CBC)

The fact that that the government is now expressing its lack of support for the project without having spoken to the Innu promoters yet is unacceptable, said the Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, Ghislain Picard.

"The Innu Nation is the promoter of the project — for me, it's important that the promoter isn't left out of such an important decision," he said.

Some 300 to 400 jobs would be created during the construction phase of the project, with 10 to 15 permanent jobs staying in the region to maintain the operation over the next 25 years, according to the promoters.

For Alain Thibault, the mayor of Port-Cartier, where many of those jobs would land, the CAQ's haste to pull the plug on the project comes as a surprise, after what he thought was a promising meeting with Julien last week.

The Apuiat project could mean as much as half a million dollars a year in economic benefits for Port Cartier, according to Mayor Alain Thibault. (Marc-Antoine Mageau/Radio-Canada)

"He really seemed interested in the project. He was asking a lot of questions on why we needed this in Port-Cartier," said Thibault.

He said if Apuiat is dropped, the CAQ will have a hard time promoting any new ventures in the region.

"Every time he will want to break ground in Nitassinan [the Innu territory], he will have to sit down with them." 

"The Innu are no longer in a mindset of just receiving annuity from the government," said Société Apuiat in its statement. "On the contrary, Innu want to implement their own investment projects, to build something that is sustainable and renewable, to develop expertise and pride."

One of the premier's main arguments against the project during the election campaign was the Hydro-Québec president and CEO Éric Martel's lack of support for the wind farm, made public in a letter last August. 

The Apuiat project would cost the Crown corporation $1.5 to $2 billion over 25 years, Martel said in that letter.

Boralex and Société Apuiat challenge that analysis in their statement, claiming that by the time the wind farm would be up and running in 2022, "the margin of manoeuvre Quebec has in its energy supply will be running out." 

- with files from Radio-Canada's Sébastien Bovet