Canada Infrastructure Bank eyes Quebec power investments: CEO

The bank says it’s ready to work with Hydro-Québec to invest in new power generation and transmission projects.

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Canada’s federal infrastructure lender says it’s ready to work with Hydro-Québec to invest in new power generation and transmission projects as the provincial utility looks to ramp up capacity.

Electricity is one of three key sectors — along with transportation and green infrastructure such as wastewater management — that could yield significant investment opportunities in Quebec, Canada Infrastructure Bank chief executive Ehren Cory said. Talks with Hydro-Québec are already underway, he said without providing specifics.

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Founded in 2017, the Toronto-based CIB aims to invest in revenue-generating infrastructure that benefits Canadians and attracts private capital. It’s agreed to invest more than $10 billion since its creation — including $1.3 billion in Montreal’s Réseau express métropolitain light-rail network. CIB is also providing $300 million in financing for the future REM station that will be built at Trudeau airport.

CIB officials have been speaking with Hydro-Québec since well before Michael Sabia took over as CEO of the utility in August, Cory told the Gazette.

“We’ve had ongoing discussions with them about their ambitions and about their plans,” he said.

Hydro-Québec is the linchpin of the provincial government’s plans to decarbonize Quebec by 2050.

Asked specifically whether new power transmission lines in Quebec are the type of project the bank would look at, Cory said: “It is.”

“There’s a major next-generation investment in the electricity sector in Quebec,” he said. “The CIB is working across the country on electrification, on building out our generation and transmission to meet the energy transition needs, to electrify our transportation and our heating. Quebec obviously has a head start on that. With the ambition of reinvestment in electricity in Quebec, there is certainly opportunity for the CIB.”

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Hydro-Québec unveiled plans in November to spend as much as $185 billion by 2035 to strengthen its transmission and distribution network, boost production capacity and improve energy efficiency amid skyrocketing demand. Sabia told reporters at the time that the plan opened up investment opportunities for the private sector, and that Hydro-Québec would seek to work “in partnership” with outside investors.

Hydro-Québec spokesperson Caroline Des Rosiers declined to comment for this story when asked about potential partnerships with the CIB.

Besides energy, Cory said the bank is also mulling investments in several transportation projects across Quebec. About two years after agreeing to invest up to $400 million to allow Quebec’s Bus Carriers Federation to buy approximately 3,500 zero-emission school buses, he said the Crown corporation has the means to support other projects of a similar nature.

Cory said he spent time in the province last month and met with “a number of officials to talk about Quebec’s really ambitious capital plans, including investments across the province and their priorities around transit. I think there are lots of opportunities for the CIB to continue to work with municipalities in Quebec and with the provincial government on building a really well-connected transit network.”

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While the CIB has already invested in school bus electrification in Quebec, “there’s still a potential of working with municipalities as they work to decarbonize their transit fleets,” the CEO said. Transit and transportation remain “a really important opportunity, well beyond the REM.”

Despite the multitude of service outages that recently hit the REM, the CIB’s commitment to public transit projects is unwavering, Cory stressed. Montreal’s driverless electric light-rail system suffered four breakdowns in four days late last month — the latest in a series of issues that have emerged since the cold weather set in.

“Investments in public transit are incredibly important if we want to grow the economy, get people to and from work faster and decarbonize,” Cory said when asked about the CIB’s decision to back the REM.

Transit networks “are complex for sure, and they do come with growing pains,” he added. “We haven’t changed our view whatsoever that they are fundamental investments we need to make. In the long term, they will make us better economically, better socially and with a better carbon footprint.”

That’s why CIB officials “remain really excited about the (REM’s) potential and the role it’s going to play in improving connectivity, growing the economy and improving quality of life,” Cory concluded.

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