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CAQ government mulls future of Apuiat wind-farm proposal

QUEBEC – The Coalition Avenir Québec government has asked Hydro-Québec to come up with a possible Plan B to replace the Apuiat wind farm project near Port Cartier on Quebec’s North Shore.

But the partners in the project, wind power giant Boralex and the Innu Nation, are furious, saying the new government did not give them a chance to explain the plan before moving to put it on ice.

They say if the government does kill it, Quebec will be missing out on a “historic rendezvous” with the Innu, which could have lasting consequences.

The reaction followed news that Premier François Legault, who came out against the project during the election campaign, has moved on his election promise and ordered Hydro-Québec to look at alternatives to compensate the Innu and other communities on Quebec’s North Shore for the lost investment.

Legault gave the order when he met last week with Hydro-Québec president Éric Martel. Martel has also argued the project makes no economic sense because Quebec is awash in power and does not need the additional 200 megawatts.

Officials in Legault’s office Tuesday insisted that no final decision has been made and Legault and his energy minister, Jonatan Julien, will meet the partners before announcing anything.

Julien, however, made it clear which way the government is leaning.

“Our position has not changed,” he said in a statement. “In the context of electricity surpluses, the project is not profitable.”

“The discussions are ongoing,” said Hydro-Québec media relations spokesperson Serge Abergel. “Nothing’s off the table, but we are looking at alternatives.

“We’re looking for a solution that’s both acceptable from Hydro-Québec’s standpoint but also from the Innu’s standpoint.

“We want to come up with something – whether it’s the project or whether it’s some sort of compensation, which has yet to be proposed.”

First announced by the Liberals in 2015 and developed in a partnership with Innu Nation and Boralex, the plan would have seen the construction of a 57-turbine wind farm with a total output of 200 megawatts near Port Cartier.

With an estimated price tag of $600 million, the project would have created 400 jobs in the region during the construction phase and 10 to 15 after the farm was up and running.

The Liberal government saw the project first and foremost as a way to develop the region’s economy in partnership with the Innu.

During the election campaign, then-premier Philippe Couillard argued the project is critical and should go ahead even if there is a net cost for Hydro-Québec.

The decision to proceed with the project was reconfirmed Aug. 22, but the agreement has been left unsigned.

Hydro did not share the government’s vision, with Hydro boss Martel saying the Crown corporation stood to lose between $1.5 billion and $2 billion over the 25-year life of the contract because the power Apuiat would generate was not needed.

Legault is on the record as saying he thinks the project is “useless and ruinous.”

On Tuesday, Abergel stressed the utility wants to maintain good relations with the Innu regardless of the outcome of talks.

But there is already consternation in the region.

On Tuesday, Port Cartier Mayor Alain Thibault said scrapping the project would deprive his city of $500,000 a year in energy royalties. Royalties for the nine Innu communities, who have never surrendered their authority over the lands in question, would total millions.

“For a small city like ours, that’s a lot of money,” Thibault said Tuesday. “If they pull the plug … the government is going to have to sit down and help us.”

And in a joint statement, the partners in the project, the Société Apuiat, which includes the Innu and Boralex, said they are “surprised and disappointed” to hear the project might be dead even before they had a chance to present it to the incoming government.

They are demanding a meeting immediately.

“We intend to demonstrate to the government that it is much more than a simple wind farm project,” the statement says. “It is a historic rendezvous between the communities of the Innu Nation, the government of Quebec and the Quebec people.”

Quebec’s Liberals also called on Legault to meet with the Innu nation immediately.