The Canadian government and Hydro-Québec announced last week that they will invest an additional $3.7 million to expand the microgrid powering portions of Lac-Mégantic in eastern Québec. The government will contribute $2.5 million from its Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways (SREP) program, which aims to reduce emissions and create sustainable jobs across the country.
An additional $1.2 million will come from Hydro-Québec, the public utility responsible for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Québec province. Hydro-Québec worked with Lac-Mégantic to build the town’s microgrid.
“The funding we received will make it possible, among other things, to develop a governance model that is mobilizing, sustainable and, above all, replicable for other communities,” said Julie Morin, mayor of Lac-Mégantic.
The funds will be used to support capacity building activities and develop a framework to further the city’s energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward electrification, a path the community has been on for the last 10 years.
Change inspired by devastation
In 2013, an unattended runaway train carrying over 2 million gallons of petroleum crude oil barreled into the rural town of Lac-Mégantic at 65 mph. It jumped the track near downtown and exploded, creating a fiery inferno that destroyed much of downtown, including more than 40 buildings and dozens of homes.
It also took the lives of 47 people and caused an ecological disaster as oil leached into the soil and the neighboring Chaudiere River.
The catastrophe set the community down the path of electrification.
Commissioned in 2021, the Lac-Mégantic microgrid includes more than 2,200 solar panels generating 800 kW of power, 700 kW of battery energy storage, a centralized control system, energy management tools and a bidirectional electric vehicle charging station.
The microgrid is capable of islanding, or disconnecting and operating independently of Hydro-Québec’s main power grid, should there be a grid outage. Conversely, it allows the utility to integrate distributed energy resources into its grid.
The microgrid powers approximately 30 buildings in the city’s downtown.
“Since a train full of fossil fuels destroyed downtown Lac-Mégantic, the community has turned to renewable energy and is increasingly recognized as a leader in energy transition in the municipal sector. Quebec’s first neighborhoodwide microgrid was built in the new downtown area, and now we want to go even further,” said Morin.
Leading by example
From the start, the city and Hydro-Québec viewed the project not only as a way to future-proof Lac-Mégantic but also to develop a sustainable and energy efficient model that could be used by other rural communities transitioning away from fossil fuels.
The money from the SREP program and Hydro-Québec will do just that.
The funds “will enable the development of a sustainable microgrid while simultaneously developing best practices that can be implemented across Canada,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Canadian minister of energy and natural resources.
“The expertise acquired here makes the city of Lac-Mégantic a pioneer in energy transition. This sustainable and replicable governance model can be adopted in other rural communities,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canadian minister of national revenue.
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