Hydro-Quebec defends its network after storm plunges thousands into darkness

The vast majority of Quebecers who have lost power during a multi-day storm system can expect their lights and heat to go back on by Wednesday, the head of Hydro-Quebec says.

At some point or another over the last few days, over 560,000 customers had no power as Quebec was battered by snow squalls and high winds during a storm that first hit late Thursday night.

By Monday morning, around 70,000 Hydro-Quebec customers were still without power.

“Today and tomorrow are going to be long,” said Hydro-Quebec’s president and CEO Sophie Brochu during a news conference Monday on what was, for some, their fourth day with no electricity.

Brochu defended the stability of the electrical grid, which Quebec’s auditor general said in a recent report is performing worse and worse despite efforts by the Crown corporation to cut down on the number of outages since 2020.

Instead, the number of blackouts is increasing amid a “marked decline” in service provided to millions of customers across the province, according to Guylaine Leclerc’s annual report published on Dec. 7.

The number of power outages over the past decade has increased from 36,314 in 2012 to 42,035 in 2021.

According to Hydro-Quebec, the amount of outages from the last weekend’s storm was unavoidable.

“Any equipment faced with 100 or 120 km/h winds would be in the same situation. We are dealing with an extreme weather situation,” Brochu told reporters during the media briefing just before noon Monday.

“There is no link” between the outages and the state of the electrical system, she said.

Hydro crews are taking a “surgical” approach to restore power to the remaining customers, reporters were told Monday. Out of the roughly 2,000 outages, about half of them involve five or fewer customers, making the restoration efforts more complicated, Hydro-Quebec said.

“So [we’re] really working really hard to restore very few people [at a time]. This is why it takes longer,” Brochu said, adding that in some cases crews have to use snowmobiles to reach rural areas affected by the storm.

Crews from other parts of the province have been deployed to assist in the restoration operation, but the Crown corporation said it couldn’t give a timeline for when power is restored to everyone.

“We cannot guarantee anything because there are some places we haven’t seen yet. We’re just starting to fly helicopters over certain regions so until we actually have a visual of some of the outages, it will be very premature for me to say absolutely [when] we know exactly when we will be back,” Brochu said.

NURSE GETS CHRISTMAS OFF, SPENDS HOLIDAY IN THE DARK

As of 1:30 pm Monday, the regions with the most outages were Quebec City (21,155 customers), Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean (10,257 customers, and Côte-Nord (8,778 customers). Just a few hundred people on the Island of Montreal had no power on Monday.

Louise Bissonette was among the approximately 1,000 customers in the Eastern Townships still without electricity on Monday.

The nurse was looking forward to finally having a Christmas off with her family this year at home in Sutton, Que., but her holiday plans were ruined on Dec. 23 when she woke up at 6 am with no power.

Louise Bissonnette with her family. (Submitted photo)

Instead of enjoying her usual Christmas Eve meal, her family gathered around in the dark around a table of chicken wings she cooked in an air fryer hooked up to a generator and some sushi.

“The last four years with COVID and everything it hasn’t been very good Christmases. And this is the second Christmas that we’ve had no power,” she told CTV News on Monday during a Skype call from her car — the “warmest place to be right now.”

“It’s a little disappointing. Fortunately, we’re all healthy. Nurses, that’s our main priority. We’re all healthy and everybody’s good. I was really looking forward to a more normal Christmas after COVID and everything, and this didn’t happen this Christmas. But I’m thankful I get to see my guys for a little bit and everybody’s safe.”

She’s hoping that the electricity will be restored so that she can take a hot shower in her own home before she goes back to work tomorrow.

Hydro-Quebec said in a notice to its customers on Christmas morning that “the worst of the weather event is behind us.”

“Please note that the service restoration times shown on the map are approximate, and may vary due to the number of outages and the kind of damage. Our crews are working to restore service as quickly as possible.”

Hydro-Quebec said on Twitter that in some locations, crews can be called to fix power lines but then be dispatched to another location that is considered a priority or an emergency.

With files from CTV News Montreal’s Rob Lurie and The Canadian Press