A wind turbine project supported by Québec Premier Philippe Couillard has recently come under fire from the CEO of Quebec’s public energy utility Hydro Quebec and rival party leader François Legault. The project, known as Apuiat, was designed to be a private-public partnership between Hydro-Quebec and private renewable-energy provider Boralex.
One of the goals of Apuiat would be to provide financial benefits to the aboriginal Innu Nation located in the Côte-Nord region of the province. However, the benefits of this public-private partnership have been questioned by many critics, most importantly by Hydro Quebec’s CEO Eric Martel, who doubt its economic viability for the Innu Nation and the taxpayers.
The Beginnings of Project Apuiat
The project was first proposed back in 2015 by former provincial energy and natural resources minister Pierre Arcand, who believed that a wind turbine project located in the Côte-Nord region would be economically advantageous for the Innu Nation.
In 2016, the Innu Nation partnered up with Boralex to plan for the construction of 48-57 wind turbines estimated to generate 200MW annually. Fast-forward to 2018, where negotiations between Hydro Quebec and Boralex have stagnated, resulting in a political headache for Québec Premier Philippe Couillard who aims to have a contract signed between the two parties before the start of the election period in late August.
Critiques of the Project
The most notable repudiation of the project came from the CEO of Québec Hydro, Eric Martel, in a letter penned to the chiefs of the Innu Nation revealed by the Journal de Montréal’s investigation bureau. In the letter, Martel in no uncertain terms questioned the project’s economic benefits for Hydro Quebec and the Innu Nation.
The letter mentioned that Québec Hydro already has an energy surplus, and signing a mutual contract of 25 years with Boralex would incur the utility $1.5-2 billion in losses. Furthermore, the economic benefits for the Innu Nation remain unclear, with negotiators of the project not fulfilling Hydro Quebec’s requirement of promising to give 50% of the profits made by the company to first nations’ bands in the region.
The letter slams the project’s general lack of transparency, noting that both the government and Boralex’s negotiators have refused to respond to queries made by the utility. As such, Martel claims that the project would be highly inadvisable for Hydro Quebec. As journalist Antoine Robitaille has noted, Hydro Québec’s subsidy for the project would be equivalent to giving each employee of Boralex $3 million over a 25-year period.
Additionally, the contract likely contains a provision which would discourage the provincial government within the period from cancelling the project without having to heavily compensate the company. In view of of an upcoming October 1 election, this would tie the hands of any rival party once they attain power.
However, the final decision on the contract’s approval–a responsibility of Hydro Québec’s executive board–is predicted to occur within the next few days. It should be noted that the board is presided by businessman Michael Penner, who actively participated in Philippe Couillard’s leadership race for the provincial Liberal Party in 2013. As such, critics have questioned the ability of the board to make an impartial decision that would reflect the interests of Hydro Québec rather than the government.
Rival Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party leader François Legault has come out against the project, describing it as a “useless and ruinous” plan that would deprive Québec taxpayers of $1.5 billion. Despite these attacks as well as the revelation of Hydro Québec CEO Eric Martel’s letter, Québec premier Philippe Couillard has been adamant that the project will be approved by Hydro Québec before the launch of the election period.
Quebec’s next provincial election looks to be a three way battle between the Coalition Avenir Québec, the Party Libéral du Québec (PLQ), and the Parti Québécois (PQ). The CAQ currently holds a lead in the polls with 32%, with the PLQ and the PQ trailing behind with 30% and 17% respectively. However, the Apuiat project has the potential to further damage the credibility of the incumbent PLQ, who has been struggling for the past several months to regain momentum in the polls.