Two years after commissioning a smart microgrid in Lac-Mégantic, the town in Quebec’s Estrie region whose downtown was incinerated a decade ago by a runaway oil train, the federal government and Hydro-Québec are investing another C$3.7 million to make the project a model for other communities.
“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,” Mayor Julie Morin said last week. The new funding “will make it possible, among other things, to develop a governance model that is mobilizing, sustainable and, above all, replicable for other communities.”
The announcement is the latest chapter in a turnaround for a town of about 6,000 where an unattended freight train carrying more than 7.5 million litres of crude oil barrelled down the line at about 100 kilometres per hour, jumped the track, and exploded. The fiery blast killed 47 people and levelled half of the downtown. The community lost more than 40 buildings and dozens of homes, prompting a long process of investigation and compensation and calls for a rail bypass around the town.
It also set Lac-Mégantic on a path to renewable energy leadership. “Commissioned in 2021, the Lac-Mégantic microgrid includes more than 2,200 solar panels generating 800 kilowatts of power, 700 kilowatts of battery energy storage, a centralized control system, energy management tools, and a bidirectional electric vehicle charging station,” Microgrid Knowledge writes, with enough power to serve about 30 downtown buildings.
“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 (DERs) into its grid.”
A Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) project profile describes the microgrid as a C$12.8-million green infrastructure project that received nearly $5.4 million in federal funding. The town’s objectives were to position itself as an energy transition leader for rural Canada, increase its appeal as a technology innovation hub, and “make Lac-Mégantic’s vision of a smart city a reality,” the fact sheet says. Hydro-Québec backed the project to successfully integrate DERs and home automation equipment into an “innovative intelligent microgrid”, get a better understanding of bidirectional power flows and islanding, and manage peak power demand during the winter season.
“The expertise acquired in Lac‑Mégantic will make it possible to deploy the parts of the model in remote power systems that, unconnected to the main grid, are currently fossil-fuel dependent,” the provincial utility says, on a profile page that frames the project as a source of pride. Within the city itself, “owners and users of the buildings targeted by the microgrid constitute a community of test subjects. Besides benefitting from the technologies in question, they’re in a position to share information on energy-saving practices and the challenges posed by the system.”
The latest grant announcement builds on that theme, with $2.5 million from Ottawa’s newly-topped-up Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways (SREP) program and $1.2 million from Hydro-Québec. The funding is meant “to support capacity-building activities that will increase the knowledge and skills related to the city’s microgrid,” with measures that include:
• Developing a wider energy transition framework for the community, including “new solutions for carbon-neutral, eco-friendly neighbourhoods”;
• Increasing energy transition knowledge and literacy;
• Producing educational materials for elementary and high school students, then pairing them with Indigenous youth from the North;
• Making Lac-Mégantic’s grid modernization expertise available to other communities.
“The first neighbourhood electricity grid in Quebec is born,” declared Revenue Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, whose Sherbrooke constituency is just 100 kilometres from the community. “The expertise acquired here makes the City of Lac-Mégantic a pioneer in energy transition,” with a “sustainable and replicable governance model” that other rural communities can adopt.