Inukjuak dam project clears environmental assessment
Early phase of Innavik Hydro Project development getting underway
Site preparation is beginning on a workers’ camp just outside Inukjuak, and heavy equipment will be arriving by barge to clear a road upriver to the future site of the Innavik Hydro Project.
And the timing is right for the renewable energy project that’s been in the works since 2007: its proponent, the Pituvik Landholding Corporation, was notified on Monday, Aug. 26, by Quebec’s Ministry of Environment that it cleared an environmental assessment.
“The only approval we’re waiting on now is for the Quebec Energy Board to approve the power purchase agreement in October,” said Pituvik President Eric Atagotaaluk. “That will pretty much make everything official.”
Construction of the 7.5-megawatt dam on the Inukjuak River will begin next year, with the hope that it will go into operation in late 2022 or early 2023.
Pituvik partnered on the project with engineering firm Innergex Renewable Energy Inc. Innavik will mark the northernmost project for Innergex, says senior advisor Francois Morin.
He says the Inukjuak River is a unique resource for a northern community in that it flows year-round, enough to maintain energy production.
“Of course, in February and March it’s less, but enough to provide the energy we expect to need. And that does the trick,” he says.
“That was our main concern when we joined the program was to ensure we had the flow all year-round.”
While ice formation clogging water intakes could be more of a challenge in the North than the south, he said it can be managed.
“It will really be a question of monitoring things more closely,” he said. “When you have ice formation you mechanically try to manage it. It’s not impossible to manage, it just takes work really to be able to monitor the situation.”
The main challenge presented by the northern environment, Morin says, is the short window in which everything has to happen—both in terms of shipping materials and construction.
For that reason, the workers’ camp will house between 100 and 120 people at a time, he said.
“Usually you have some workers that come at a certain step of the process and you have a bit of rolling people in and out,” said Morin. “Because of the shorter construction season, you need more activities at the same time.”
Right now, the goal is to have everything ready to receive workers in the spring.
While construction awaits, one aspect of the project that has started up is a fish-monitoring program.
“We had our first samples of fish this summer in order to start a profile,” said Atagotaaluk. “We’re hoping to see results by the month of November, to get an idea of existing fish and their status before the project starts, so they can see if there’s any deterioration.”
This would measure various things, such as mercury levels already present in the fish, so any increase following dam development can be recognized.
The Northern Village of Inukjuak operates on the second-largest microgrid in Quebec. Supporting 1,800 people, the Innavik Project will supply nearly all of the community’s energy, currently derived from diesel. This means avoiding about 700,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the 40 years of the project agreement, according to the project website.
By law, all electricity produced in Quebec is sold to Hydro Quebec, which then sells it to consumers at a fixed price.
With the cost of diesel production, that’s a significant expense in remote communities and, Atagotaaluk said, they can’t make a profit here.
Exactly how much Hydro Quebec will be paying for Innavik’s power won’t be confirmed until the energy board signs off on the agreement between Pituvik and Hydro Quebec in October. But, Morin says of the money Hydro Quebec currently loses with the high cost of diesel production, “now they will really save about 20 per cent of that money. It will cost them less and a good part of that money will go back to the community.”
Atagotaaluk calls it the one-third formula, which will determine how the revenue from the sale of electricity trickles back into Inukjuak: one-third to social programs, one-third to economic development, and one-third to education and training.
“We plan to follow this formula and have a positive impact within our community, which has always been our goal,” says Atagotaaluk.