The power is back, but questions remain. What can we learn from the ice storm in Quebec for the next time?

The ice storm that paralyzed Quebec and knocked out power to much of the province earlier this month is now officially over. The last customers affected by the storm were reconnected to the network this week, Hydro-Quebec said.

But we asked if you had any questions about the storm, the outages or the aftermath. You sent us your questions and we answered them.

Here are your questions and answers:

Who decides what connects electricity first and why?

Hydro-Québec makes this call. The company says it prioritizes outages that pose an imminent risk to public safety. This means he is rushing to restore power to hospitals and other emergency services.

Hydro-Quebec also says it tries to deal with outages that affect large numbers of people first. So if the utility has to choose between an outage that affects 1,000 people or one that affects 10, it will rewire the former first.

Hydro-Quebec’s website displays this graph to explain how it prioritizes outages and decides who reconnects first. (Hydro-Quebec)

Next comes its level of priority, which Hydro-Québec calls “strategic” priorities. This includes restoring service to the media, for example, and other urgent public communication services, so people can get information during crisis events.

Third, Hydro-Quebec says it is trying to restore power to “critical” priorities, including CHSLDs, clinics and other public services. Finally, at the bottom of the list of business priorities are residences and commercial buildings.

Ultimately, however, these priorities could change, according to Hydro-Québec, “depending on the situation, the specific needs of a municipality or the requirements of public security officials”.

How is it possible in 2023 to have such a fragile distribution network?

The auditor general of Quebec raised some concerns about the state of the Hydro-Quebec network in a report published in December.

The report said outages were becoming more frequent in Quebec and lasting longer in part because of aging utility equipment, but also because Hydro-Quebec had fallen behind in cutting vegetation near wires. .

You can read more about it here:

At the time, Hydro-Quebec recognized that as infrastructure ages, it becomes more susceptible to failure and becomes more vulnerable to high winds and other inclement weather like freezing rain – events that are expected to become more frequent due to climate change.

Why didn’t they control tree growth better?

The Auditor General’s report criticizes Hydro-Québec for having invested inadequately in the protection of its lines against the growth of trees.

Hydro-Quebec said two things are keeping its crews busy and slowing preventative maintenance: an increase in severe weather and an increase in connection requests, which the company is required to respond to.

Will there be compensation for people who have been without electricity for 5 days or more?

The Government of Quebec has announced that social assistance recipients with a power outage for more than 24 hours would be eligible for financial assistance to cover food costs.

Assistance is set at $75 per family member up to a maximum of $300 per household.

If you want to see if you can file a claim with Hydro-Quebec for damages, you can consult this site here. But the utility says its liability is limited.

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What are we doing to prevent this from happening again?

Experts say Hydro-Quebec can do certain things to prevent another storm from destroying the network.

These things include burying cables, upgrading equipment, and the extra investment to protect its cables from trees.

You can read more about it here:

But in the end, some experts say there is little the company can do to prevent a major natural disaster from wreaking havoc.

“It’s extremely difficult to be ready for a period of disaster,” said Pierre-Olivier Pineau, energy policy specialist and professor at HEC Montreal. “Whenever there is a problem, everyone is quick to criticize, but when there are investments, they criticize the investments.”

Why does it seem like the West Island was hit the hardest or waited the longest for power to come back on?

The West Island is an area of ​​Montreal with lots of tall, old trees, many of which grow above power lines.

Hydro-Quebec said all areas heavily affected during the storm were places with many mature trees that were weighed down by ice.

“We have a very large network,” said Caroline Des Rosiers, spokesperson for Hydro-Québec. “Some parts are getting old, we could have done a better maintenance job in the last few years, but that’s not the reason for what happened last week. It’s a vegetation problem, especially in the West Island.

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Did Hydro call for help from out of province during the last storm?

Yes, but no too.

Hydro-Quebec paid contractors to help with tree trimming and some of these contractors brought in workers from New Brunswick and Ontario.

But the company has not brought in linemen from other provinces to help reconnect the wires, which it has done in the past during major outages like a winter storm in December.

The reason they didn’t, according to Hydro-Quebec, is that this storm was unique in the complexity of the outages it caused. It would have been too difficult to coordinate with workers in other provinces who have different protocols for shutting off power in areas with downed trees, the company said.

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