Akwesasne couple picks up Hydro Quebec’s slack by handing out generators

A temporary solution to Hydro-Québec’s unreliability.

The cleanup from April’s ice storm is still underway in Quebec and eastern Ontario, but an Akwesasne couple helped shield their most vulnerable residents from the worst of its impact by supplying generators.

The Mohawk community of Akwesasne where Alexandra and Jason David live is geographically peculiar. It straddles New York State and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. One community, three power grids – and on the Quebec side, served by Hydro-Québec.

Residents in Akwesasne have been dealing with frequent, prolonged power outages for the past decade – and were out of power for three and a half days after April’s ice storm.

The storm swept Quebec and Eastern Ontario on April 5 with 60 k/per hour winds and freezing rain which felled hundreds of trees that landed on power lines.

More than one million Hydro-Québec customers lost power across the province, and only a third of them had it back on within 24 hours.

Hydro One, the electricity company serving Eastern Ontario customers, had to deal with 120,000 outages – but those on the Ontario side of Akwesasne did not experience prolonged outages during the storm.

Akwesasne residents on the other side of the border didn’t experience a lengthy power outage.

“It is very frustrating when just right there, across that tree line, they never lose power,” said Jason, “You can see it if you’re driving around at night, lights, everybody has lights, and everybody’s going about their business, but as soon as you hit this side of the road, it’s darkness. It’s quiet. It’s eerie.”

The couple said their power goes out in the summer, if it rains too much and if the wind blows.

“There’s a lot of different reasons, but nothing has really been as lengthy as it has been in the past year,” said Alexandra.” We’ve had two, three, three outages where it’s lasted three days or more.”

These frequent outages prompted Alexandra and her friend Fallan Jacobs to put their heads together back in January to spearhead this initiative to purchase generators and supply them to locals when needed. They ended up receiving money from Save the Children Canada two days after submitting their grant proposal.

“I’ve been working in non-profit for about 20 years now,” said Alexandra. “There’s a lot less red tape, that kind of thing, so that was just my natural move to reach out to some people that I knew.

“The last power outage we had we got some cute messages from some families like ‘thank you so much for the generator, you know, because we’re able to use it today,’” said Alexandra.

David and Jacobs were able to purchase 15 generators and took to social media to hand them out based on the highest need. Alexandra, Jason, Fallan and her husband, and Alexandra’s 11-year-old daughter delivered the generators in early February.

“I really think that community work is the best kind of work you can do. You can really see the impact,” said Alexandra. “My husband and I delivered a generator to a single mom with three children, and the children were maybe like three, five, six [years old], and when we brought that generator up to the porch those little boys were jumping up and down and they were like ‘Oh my god, a generator!’ you know, they were so excited.

“Even at that young age they understand that we don’t have power a lot of the time over here in Quebec. And they know [a generator]’s a good thing for their family.”

Akwesasne residents on the Quebec side of the border rely on generators as a stop gap for power outages. But not everyone can afford them – the cheaper ones still cost hundreds of dollars, and are fueled by petrol, which is also pricy.

And there are hidden costs too – generators should not be left unattended, so when the power is out for an extended period of time, Jason said he takes time off work to make sure nothing goes wrong.

“We bought [our generator] for camp because there’s no electricity at camp, it comes more in handy at our daily house, at our house where we live,” he said.

Alexandra also said generators are unsustainable to use for an extended period of time. When their power goes out, the family only powers one room in the house and their wi-fi. Many families do the same, as their generators are not large enough to power more, and to save on fuel.

“In three days, families are losing everything in their fridge, even with generators. you don’t always get to power everything that you need,” said Alexandra.

The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne provides subsidies for spoiled food during long outages – something Hydro-Québec has yet to offer – as well as warming centres and meals.

Grand Chief Abram Benedict says the council has met with Hydro-Québec several times to address the underlying causes.

“We understand that 60 per cent of the outages that are occurring are because of trees or some sort of vegetation interrupting the service and frankly this is disappointing,” said Benedict. “We do know that through the last power outage because it affected a large area, that Quebec Hydro [sic] did admit that for financial purposes, they had not made those investments in pruning trees, and as a result, very long extended outage.”

In an email statement to APTN, Hydro-Québec said that tree pruning should be finished in the next four to five weeks and infrastructure improvements should be completed by the end of this year.

But with the help of people like Alexandra and Jason David, the community is a step closer to getting what they need… to power through.

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