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Montreal's power grid is deteriorating, raising new concerns about reliability

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Montreal residents are once again concerned about the reliability of the city's power grid after new revelations on its deteriorating infrastructure.

A report by Radio-Canada has revealed details from a Hydro-Quebec internal document from last year, indicating that much of Montreal's electrical infrastructure is outdated and struggling to cope with increasing demands.

There was a surge in power outages across Quebec in 2023, with Montreal bearing a significant brunt of the disruptions, affecting tens of thousands of residents.

The Hydro-Quebec document describes the infrastructure on the island as "outdated" and mentions it is "increasingly difficult to work on an overloaded network," citing a high risk of fire, explosion, or further outages.

Francois Bouffard, an associate professor of electrical engineering at McGill University, said the report's findings come as little surprise.

"The infrastructure is aging. It's old. It needs to be replaced and upgraded with current technology," he said.

According to Bouffard, much of Montreal's distribution network operates at a lower voltage (12,000v) compared to other parts of Quebec (25,000v), a discrepancy that predates even the nationalization of electricity in the province.

Hydro-Quebec, however, insists that efforts are underway to address these concerns.

"We are aware of the situation. We are taking it seriously, but we are in action. I think we are doing what needs to be done," said Maxence Huard-Lefebvre, spokesperson for Hydro-Quebec.

This includes the replacement of several ageing substations, such as the one in Hampstead, responsible for frequent outages in the NDG area.

The utility has also ramped up its budget allocation for Montreal, earmarking approximately $4 billion for improvements until 2030.

Energy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon expressed confidence in the Crown corporation.

"If you look back in the last couple of years, yes, there have been some power outages, but frankly, I think it's been manageable. So I have a lot of respect for Hydro-Quebec's workforce," he said.

Bouffard says he understands why Montrealers may be worried since dependence on electricity is only growing.

"More of us work from home. More of us depend on communication, tech, computers, etc. Some of us have electric cars," he said.  

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