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Hydro-Quebec will need to invest $155-185 billion to meet electricity demands: CEO

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Hydro-Quebec President and CEO Michael Sabia defended his Action Plan 2035 before members of the Quebec legislature on Thursday.

Sabia spoke of "ambitious" objectives he says are necessary for energy transition.

"This is no time for half-measures," he said by way of introduction.

He said Hydro-Quebec's plan was based on two main pillars: the energy and economic transition; and customer service, which he felt needed to be seriously improved.

"Hydro-Quebec is first and foremost a service company. However, cards on the table, our level of service is simply not up to scratch. So what are we going to do? We're going to rebuild our service," he said.

Hydro's top boss has pledged to reduce outages by 35 per cent over the next seven to 10 years. In the event of outages, he promises to communicate better with affected customers.

Aware of "the pressure on citizens," Sabia also assured that there would be no increase in residential rates beyond 3 per cent. On the other hand, it is "highly likely" that business rates will rise more significantly, he said.

On the subject of energy efficiency, he also promised "more personal support," with "dedicated experts" and "enhanced financial offers," to encourage Quebecers to "consume electricity more efficiently."

Sabia also reiterated the importance of decarbonizing a global economy "built on fossil fuels for 200 years."

"This is not just an adjustment; it's a real break, and it won't be easy," he warned.

"The countries that build an economy that is both low-carbon and prosperous will be the big winners in this transition," he added. Quebec is already well positioned, he said, "but the rest of the world is in action, and we have to act now."

By 2035, Hydro-Quebec expects to produce an additional 8,000 to 9,000 megawatts.

Sabia wants to diversify production and isn’t ruling out building new dams. His Action Plan 2035 calls for Hydro-Quebec to invest between $155 and $185 billion over the next few years.

"With an ambitious plan will come challenges," he declared. For example, some 35,000 construction workers a year will be needed to build the new infrastructures, according to the plan's estimates.

"We announced (...) six-month short courses in construction to train 5,000 people," said Premier François Legault at a press scrum on Thursday. "We've already received over 30,000 applications. That means we'll be able to continue, and that's excellent for Quebecers."

Sabia also promoted an "innovative" approach based on the principle of "economic reconciliation" with Indigenous people, where they will be able to take "financial stakes in our projects."

The 2035 Action Plan is intended to serve as a "basis for discussion," according to Hydro's CEO, who will be holding a series of meetings over the coming months with various stakeholders, including municipalities, to "refine the proposed solutions."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Nov. 30, 2023. 

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