'It has to end now': Manawan chief calls on Hydro-Québec to halt repeated power outages

The leader of the 2,000-person community, about 250 kilometres north of Montreal, said it often undergoes 20 to 30 outages per year, making it one of the hardest hit areas in Quebec.

Atikamekw community about 250 km north of Montreal undergoes 20 to 30 outages per year, chief says

Manawan Chief Jean-Roch Ottawa says his community has been hit with repeated power outages for years, and Hydro-Québec has to find a way to make it stop. (Radio-Canada)

After losing power for 19 hours last weekend, people in the Atikamekw community of Manawan are calling on Hydro-Québec to do more about the repeated power outages that have been hitting the community for years.

The outages don't only affect the health and well-being of Manawan residents, says Chief Jean-Roch Ottawa, but have consequences for the economic and social development of the community.

"We can't have any more outages in the coming years," he said. "It has to end now."

Ottawa, the leader of the community of 2,000 about 250 kilometres north of Montreal, said residents often undergo 20 to 30 long outages per year, making it one of the hardest hit areas in Quebec.

According to Hydro-Québec, the power was out in Manawan for a total of 107 hours, equivalent to more than four days, in 2015. The provincial average was 30 minutes. 

"Hydro-Québec has a responsibility to help us find a solution," Ottawa said.

He wants to meet with Hydro-Québec CEO Éric Martel to tell him that efforts to improve the network are not enough, and that they must do more.

The Manawan chief wants to meet with Hydro-Québec CEO Éric Martel, right, to tell him the utility's efforts to improve the network are not enough. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Hydro-Québec expects situation to improve by summer

Since only one transmission line runs into Manawan, outages affect every home and building in the community.

That one line presents a challenge for Hydro-Québec, one that isn't present in places like Montreal where there are many lines supplying one urban centre, said spokesperson Serge Abergel.

The remote location means it often takes crews 10 to 12 hours to fix a problem.

"The challenge is getting there," Abergel said. "There are very real problems in terms of accessibility."

One transmission line provides power to all of Manawan, so when there is a problem, every home and business loses electricity. (Anne-Marie Yvon/Radio-Canada)

Abergel said the company has been working on making the line more robust by replacing towers and other equipment, and installing remote sensor technology that could fix problems without having to dispatch crews.

One hundred insulators had to be changed along the line, and 100 more will be replaced in 2018, he added.

"We expect things to improve by summer," he said, adding that Martel would be happy to meet with Ottawa to discuss the problem.

"We do agree with them that this situation is not acceptable at the moment."

With files from Steve Rukavina