Premier Bouchard and Hydro-Quebec say the Ice Storm Disaster was impossible to foresee and prepare for.
But we did get a warning. A wild storm lashed into the Lanaudiere region east of Montreal at the same time last year, the beginning of January. The 1997 storm dropped 50 mm of frozen rain, causing iced-up trees to crash down on power lines and towers. A blackout left thousands with no power for eight days.
Did the government or HQ learn anything from this crisis? It appears Quebec never made emergency plans to handle a repeat of the ’97 storm. In other areas of North America, such planning is mandatory. B.C. Hydro, for example, regularly runs simulations of dam failures, earthquakes and even a failure of the entire system to make sure it’s ready.
B.C. Hydro’s emergency plans are widely distributed to the public, while HQ guards its plans as tight as the CIA.
“They did absolutely nothing,” said Louis Champagne, president of the HQ engineers’ union. “They didn’t take into account the disaster that could happen. The question was not even posed. If it could happen in Lanaudiere, it could happen in Montreal. They didn’t even study it.”
Hydro-Quebec’s legendary arrogance and lack of openness to the public served it and the public poorly during the crisis that hit Montreal, say energy experts.
“I think Hydro has had its eyes on other things than its own customers,” said John Birkham, spokesman for the Quebec group Mouvement Au Courant and himself an engineer. “Since (Andre) Caille took over (as Hydro chairman), the strategy was to build more production and exports. They took their Quebec customers for granted.”
“Appalling risks were taken by the system. Now we’re paying the price,” said Robert McCullough, a Portland, Oregon energy consultant, who said HQ decisions should be opened up to outside scrutiny to make sure mistakes aren’t repeated.
“If Hydro-Quebec was more regulated, this kind of thing (proper emergency planning) would have beendone,” said Ian Goodman, a Boston, Mass, energy consultant. “I’m very concerned we’re going to get moreof the same in the future.”