The communities believe their land and livelihood have been imperilled by Hydro Quebec's 14,500 MW La Grande water power complex, constructed since 1979 on their traditional territory east of James Bay. Despite the Cree people's proximity to this capacity they are not served by the utility grid.
The Cree communities currently import oil by the barrel to supply diesel generators, resulting in high electricity rates frequently above $0.50/kWh. The cost of running power lines from La Grande to these villages is considered prohibitive. Now, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in late May has reopened discussions on self government, provincial support for community economic and resource development, and other local measures the Cree consider basic necessities. The accord clearly opens the way for exploitation of the Cree's locally available renewables resources, including wind.
"Both sides have come out of the war zone, and appropriate renewable energy will benefit," comments Francois Tanguay of Greenpeace Quebec, referring to a decision by the Quebec government to shelve the controversial 3212 MW Great Whale mega project, one of Hydro Quebec's intended successors to La Grande (Windpower Monthly, December 1994). Hydro-Quebec, glutted with power, has long been criticised for its mega project approach and a public inquiry was launched last month into alleged irregularities and corruption in Hydro Quebec's independent power contracting during 1987-1994.
More modest regional or local energy facilities are now preferred for Quebec. Recent workshops to review broad energy policy (Windpower Monthly, April 1995) reveal that a major reorientation of the public utility towards small scale, renewable and independent power projects is on the cards. A tripartite committee of Waskaganish (formerly Rupert House) on James Bay, the federal Department of Indian Affairs (DIA), and Hydro-Quebec is pursuing renewable energy options to alleviate the off-grid community's uncomfortable dependence on diesel generation. The diesel units are provided by DIA.
Contenders for the Waskaganish energy project, which is sized at 6 MW, expandable to 9 MW, include wind and small hydro. Waskaganish Chief Billy Diamond says he will negotiate with major international wind turbine suppliers. Developers may also shortly explore the potential for larger, grid-connected wind farms on traditional Cree territory. "The entire northern Quebec shore of James Bay and Hudson Bay is a gold mine of wind resources," says Tanguay.