Montreal Gazette

Fitzgibbon says firms could face a decade of energy shortages


Quebec doesn't have enough electricit­y to satisfy all the companies wanting to carry out industrial projects in the province, Energy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon says — and the situation could drag on for a decade.

Fitzgibbon is scheduled to announce on March 31 which large industrial projects the government has selected. Key criteria include economic and regional developmen­t benefits, environmen­tal and social impacts and the effects on the provincial power grid.

Energy availabili­ty has emerged as a major issue for companies in recent months after Quebec tightened approval criteria for new projects in 2023 amid soaring industrial demand. Under the new rules, any project requiring at least five megawatts of power must be approved by the provincial government. Until last year, the threshold was 50 megawatts.

“When I look at small businesses and large companies, people realize that there will be an energy shortage for probably about a decade. As a result, we need to be parsimonio­us in the way we consume energy,” Fitzgibbon said Friday during an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolit­an Montreal.

“The bad news is that right now, I have on my desk interestin­g projects for 10,000 megawatts of power,” the minister added. “In the short term, unfortunat­ely, we don't have these megawatts so we're going to have to make choices. We're going to be parsimonio­us. The contributi­on of a project to the fight against climate change will be one of the criteria. So that's the bad news: we're going to run out of electrons.”

The projected shortfall isn't enough to deter industrial users, Fitzgibbon insists.

“The good news is that a lot of companies I'm talking to, both foreign and local, are saying they're ready to wait,” he said. “They want green energy at a reasonable price. They're ready to wait and to be more efficient.”

Demand for power in Quebec has set new highs in recent years, hitting 43,000 megawatts in March 2023, the minister said. That's higher than Hydro-québec's installed capacity, which totalled about 38,000 megawatts at the end of 2023.

“If we can reduce this peak, there will be more power available,” Fitzgibbon said. “Companies are saying maybe they'll self-produce a little bit of energy, maybe they'll change their manufactur­ing processes or maybe they'll remove themselves from the network in January. In the past, these discussion­s did not exist.”

Companies “are prepared to wait four or five years,” the minister added. “It's not the end of the world because we're going to have a fertile environmen­t for projects in Quebec.”

Hydro-québec is months into a 12-year, $185-billion plan to boost capacity by up to 9,000 megawatts and significan­tly reduce power outages. About 99 per cent of the energy that the utility produces is classified as clean.

Fitzgibbon also said he's weeks away from unveiling a bill on the framework and developmen­t of clean energies. The new law comes as Quebec works to develop an electric battery industry following the announceme­nt last fall that Sweden's Northvolt AB would build a multi-billion-dollar plant on Montreal's South Shore.

“To realize these projects in record time, we're going to need to review all our processes. We need to modernize the sector's legal and regulatory framework,” Fitzgibbon said.

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