Premier François Legault recently said $100 billion would be needed to bury power lines in Quebec.

For Normand Mousseau, professor of physics and scientific director of the Trottier Energy Institute at Polytechnique Montréal, the figure of 100 billion “represents nothing” because “nobody defends” this idea. “What would be desirable are targeted burials,” he said. For example, in the city or in the suburbs, in dense neighborhoods, we could do it. It costs a bit more, but it would give us a stronger network because outages in those places affect a lot more people than in the countryside. »

This is the proportion of new Hydro-Québec customers who have been supplied underground since 2008.

This is the number of projects to bury cable networks on sites of heritage and cultural interest carried out or undertaken in 48 municipalities since the year 2000.

The best time to bury wires is when the street needs to be redone. But the lack of coordination between cities and different departments means that opportunities are missed, believes Mr. Mousseau. “For the past ten years, Montreal has been redoing its aqueduct, its sewers. We opened up streets, and the landfill costs would have been greatly reduced, but we didn’t, because there is no one talking to each other. It is time that each time we open a street in Montreal or elsewhere […] we do it. »

The crisis caused by the 2023 ice storm will lead to an increase in tree trimming in Montreal, which will “disfigure the city”, believes Normand Mousseau. “Pruning is a short-term solution. We will not bury the wires overnight, but we must do it little by little when it is possible to do so. »

In Montreal, about half of the distribution lines are underground, which represents 4106 kilometers of distribution lines, according to Hydro-Québec. In the province, this is the case for approximately 11% of distribution lines. “More expensive than an overhead network, landfilling is a decision that belongs to municipal or governmental authorities, and not to the electricity supplier,” notes Hydro-Québec.

Over the past 100 years, electricity has evolved from a new phenomenon reserved for an elite to a service around which all facets of life revolve. The resilience of the network should reflect this fact, believes Normand Mousseau.

“With smart grids coming, we are moving towards more distributed generation. Electric cars can supply electricity to the network from time to time, or solar panels can do it… These networks are also a way of reducing the risks, because if there is a breakdown locally, we can have electricity from other sources. »

Ultimately, it is the municipalities that must decide whether to request the burial of the wires on their territory in the new districts, and Quebec could accelerate the pace by obliging the municipalities to do so. “If it’s driving up hookup costs, maybe it’s also forcing denser neighborhoods.” But densification, there are those who are fighting against that too…”