'Our network was made for a village in the 60s': Sutton mayor can no longer tolerate power cuts

“Our network was created in the 60s for a village and it was as if it had never evolved,” explains Sutton mayor Robert Benoît, who regrets Hydro-Québec’s slowness in correcting the situation.

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Robert Benoît knows all about power outages. Not only does he suffer from citizens’ dissatisfaction when the power goes out, but he also has to live with the vagaries of an outdated network. “At City Hall we have lost power ten times in the last two days at the location where our municipal water fountain is located. Every time, even if it only takes five seconds, the generator starts,” he says.

HJydro-Québec outages in Estrie

Sutton Mayor Robert Benoît wants Hydro-Québec to do more to correct the situation. Photo provided by the City of Sutton

This community of 4,500 residents has suffered outages on and off for a year and a half, he said. In the last 15 days alone, the power went out seven times, sometimes for several hours.

A network “from the 60s”

Sutton has one of the oldest networks in Quebec. A 49 kilovolt (kV) network when a 120 kilovolt network is required. The substation is also aging, but Hydro-Québec does not plan to replace it until 2032.

“At 49 kV we don’t have a lot of juice to pass through… It’s very rare, I thought there wouldn’t be any left,” says François Bouffard, associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “We still find them, as well as 69 kV networks, in the Estrie region, especially near the American border. “These are networks that come from the second wave of nationalization, i.e. the 1960s. The standard today is 120 kV,” he says.

At the moment the network is at maximum capacity and the voltage is low, explains Mayor Benoît. Result: Citizens often experience five-second mini-blackouts, “flickering”.

“The network here was created for a village in the 60s and it was as if it had never evolved. We have experienced an impressive real estate boom in recent years. “In the last three years there has been a 14 percent increase in houses and population,” he adds.

Part of the answer also lies with citizens, who are very reluctant to trim or cut down trees on their properties. Only 5% of citizens agreed to cut trees on their land during a Hydro-Québec tree-cutting operation in 2022.

“The people of Hydro-Québec blame the climate and climate change and the fact that many residents refuse to cut. But that is only part of the explanation,” says Robert Benoît.

Hydro wants to act

“The quality of electricity supply in this sector is not at the level we would like,” admits Caroline Des Rosiers of Hydro-Québec. “It should be noted, however, that over the last three weeks we have experienced adverse weather-related precipitation in certain regions of Quebec. The only region affected by each of these episodes is Estrie. These events caused outages due to the accumulation of heavy snow on branches and trees,” she explains.

Hydro-Québec intends to take several measures to remedy the situation. Raising citizens’ awareness, in particular, of the importance of carrying out the necessary vegetation control work.

In addition, around fifty new maintenance interventions are planned in the coming weeks and months, such as the replacement or maintenance of devices. Ultimately, Hydro would like to monitor the sector’s 94 kilometer distribution line and carry out work as necessary.

“We have a quality of service issue here and have been telling Hydro for a year and a half that we urgently need to work to resolve it. But I think, given the dissatisfaction of the population and the articles in the newspapers, they are beginning to understand,” concludes Robert Benoît.

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