Ouje-Bougoumou demands solutions to power outages

Share Button

The people of Ouje-Bougoumou are fed up with repeated power outages and are demanding a permanent solution from Hydro-Québec. While strong winds and an abundance of trees near power lines have frequently shut down the village’s electrical grid over the past several years, three recent episodes have caused Chief Curtis Bosum to lose patience.

“Hydro-Québec has been clearly informed at all levels, from the level of president to maintenance technicians, that the state of the power supply in our community is unacceptable,” Chief Bosum wrote earlier this month in a Facebook statement to community members.

“Every time there is any interruption of our service I am alerting all levels of Hydro-Québec and the Cree Nation Government. I will continue to do this until our community secures the level and quality of service that we deserve. We will continue doing everything we can to get an immediate remediation of our power supply.”

It seems that these efforts have succeeded in gaining the attention of the provincial electricity utility. Chief Bosum told the Nation that a meeting has been set for October 23 with Éric Filion, President of Hydro-Québec Distribution.

“As of today, there is a meeting to have this problem solved once and for all,” said Bosum. “That’s what I’m expecting out of this meeting.”

Power outages have been a recurring problem in Ouje-Bougoumou since the community was built in the 1990s after decades of forced relocations. Strong winter winds coming off Lake Opemisca are the usual culprit, including one incident that knocked out power for close to 72 hours.

“We’re very vulnerable with these high winds,” commented Deputy Chief Lance Cooper. “A tree falls over and we’re done. One time this happened during Christmas.”

After Chief Bosum reached out to Hydro-Québec last year, they investigated the situation and eventually cut treetops in areas deemed problematic. Despite assurances that there shouldn’t be any more problems, another outage struck early this fall.

Bosum said that although Hydro-Québec responded quite quickly, they didn’t resolve his concerns that other areas on the power line required intervention or were likely to result in the same issues. Sure enough, the next outage impacted an audience that couldn’t be ignored.

On September 17, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra made a special visit to Ouje-Bougoumou during its historic tour of northern Indigenous communities, presenting the Cree opera Chaakapesh in the only Cree community of the tour. It was on this day that a huge storm blacked out the region.

Fortunately, the show was able to go on with the help of a hardworking team, a generator and battery-powered lights. Video footage of the concert shows the orchestra’s sheet music illuminated by hanging flashlights, while the audience sat in darkness.

“Ironically, they were fully sponsored by Hydro-Québec, so they got on the phone with the president who said they would make it a priority,” Bosum explained. “But the power didn’t go on until later that evening. We were still able to pull off the show; they didn’t need much power, just some lighting. The show was a success but it’s quite embarrassing, hosting this kind of event, knowing there are people from other communities attending. It was pitch black.”

After this fall’s second outage, Bosum insisted that a meeting with Hydro-Québec was necessary to find a permanent solution. Five minutes after getting an email from a regional representative, he received a text from the fire department. The power was out again.

“There have been more outages than usual this fall,” confirmed Cendrix Bouchard, spokesperson for Hydro-Québec. “Lots of severe weather. It’s always due to vegetation coming into contact with the network.”

Bouchard said there have actually been six outages this autumn already but called back to clarify that some of these problems were provincewide. The line causing most problems is along Route 113 where 350 trees were cut down by Hydro-Québec in 2016.

To reduce delays in power restoration following outages, a second team was added to the area last year. Previously, crews had to be sent from Lac Saint-Jean. Another recent initiative intended to minimize delays is the addition of smart meters, which communicate outages to Hydro-Québec as soon as they occur.

“We are taking this very seriously and the meeting next week between Mr. Filion and the Chief of the community is actual proof of that,” stated Bouchard.

He added that other rural communities in forested areas face similar issues, with the problems and responses depending on where the power lines are, the type of trees, and previous work done in each area. Hydro-Québec seeks to minimize tree removal while keeping them clear of the lines.

Although comparable details in Quebec were unavailable, the Vancouver Sun reported a few years ago that British Columbia’s remote northern areas average 20 to 30 hours without power annually compared to one hour in large urban centres.

Dense urban areas have so many grid connections that electricity can often be redirected around a fault in one line almost seamlessly while a failure in more remote areas with only one transmission line can black out a whole community indefinitely.

“To find a solution so my community doesn’t have to face any more power outages, I’ve heard of options – maybe putting the line underground,” Chief Bosum said. “The other one that we’ve been requesting is to enlarge the corridor they have from the tree line to the power line.”

In hurricane-ravaged Florida, where improving the resilience of the electrical grid is a key concern, moving power lines underground is a popular but pricey potential solution. Other alternatives include replacing wooden poles with concrete or steel ones and reinforcing utility poles with tensioned cables for greater stability.

“I know there are some scenarios that will be presented at the meeting,” Bouchard remarked. “Usually putting lines underground is very costly.”

Chief Bosum is hopeful that the meeting with Filion will yield a sustainable solution for reliable power in Ouje-Bougoumou and answer his other questions. Months ago he requested reports about brownouts in the community, voltage reductions that result in a dimming of electric quality.

“Since I’ve put a word in and been on top of them, Ouje has sort of been a priority because I have used higher cards to address the issue,” Bosum confided. “I’ve got their attention, that’s for sure.”

Share Button

Comments are closed.