On May 13, Claude Bechard, Quebec’s Minister of Natural Resources, and Benoit Pelletier, the Minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, announced in a joint press conference that Hydro-Quebec will hand out 500 megawatts more in contracts to Aboriginal wind-power developers and companies in remote areas.
This statement comes after both Hydro and the provincial government were heavily criticized following the announcement of the 15 winning bidders for 2,004 megawatts in the south of Quebec. The winners did not include any of the four Aboriginal groups tending for the contracts.
The Aboriginal companies will be able to sell back their energy at a higher rate than the original 15 bid winners, at 9.5 cents per kilowatt hour as opposed to the 8.7 cents the private developers will be receiving.
At the same time, the 500 megawatts will be portioned into 25-megawatt blocks to be divided amongst 20 Aboriginal developers. These blocks are much smaller shares than those who got in on the ground floor of the original bidding process for 2,004 megawatts. The new bidding process will begin this fall with the expectation that the wind-power stations will start producing energy between 2012 and 2014.
According to Rene Paquette, the director of electricity for the natural resources ministry, the new 500 megawatts is part of Hydro-Quebec’s energy strategy for 2006-2015 and part of its goal is “to promote the direct involvement of small communities.”
Between issues of land ownership, proposed energy-output capacity, delays in grid hook-ups and the capacities of the windmills to operate under extreme conditions among other criteria, both of the proposed wind-energy projects in Mistissini and Chisasibi, along with proposed projects by the Innu and the Mi’kmaqs, all lost out to private investors.
Paquette stated that the Aboriginal groups were being allowed to sell their energy back at a higher rate to “give a greater chance to the project to generate financial and economical benefits to the participating communities.” The move can be seen as reactionary in view of the heavy criticism both agencies received. Chief John Longchap of Mistissini concurred on this issue.
When Ted Moses was Grand Chief of the Crees, he secured a tender from the government to develop the two proposed wind-power stations and set aside special allocations to the tune of 250-300 megawatts outside of the new bidding process for the extra 500 megawatts.
Longchap is still frustrated, however, over not being included in the original deal that Hydro sought out tenders for as both the multi-billion dollar wind-power stations are still on hold until Hydro-Quebec gives the final go-ahead for the project and over how the deal Moses fought for has not gone through yet. “Hydro is stalling but that is where you have to differentiate, those are the negotiations in which we set aside special allocations for the Crees.”
At the same time, with the 2,004 megawatts that bids went in for back in 2005. “We submitted a project and Chisasibi submitted a project. But when they announced the winners, none of them had Aboriginal content. There were no projects in the North that were considered and even though the price per kilowatt hour went for 8.75 cents, the price we submitted was much lower than that.”
According to Longchap, despite the fact that Hydro-Quebec has been stalling on closing the deal for over a year now, there is still a great deal of interest in this energy source for the Crees. This variety of energy production does not involve flooding more land in the North and the economic impacts of the projects would be felt community-wide between new employment opportunities and various other economic spin-offs. At the same time, Longchap is still drumming his fingers and waiting.