A free waterfront activity that’s as fun as it is educational? Many parents and people who regularly visit museums will be delighted to learn that you can visit the Rivière-des-Prairies hydroelectric power station for free. In fact, there are 16 Hydro-Québec facilities that the public can see, without spending a cent, during the summer.
It is on the way to 3400, rue du Barrage, in Laval, that we realize how much we can forget that Montreal and Laval are an island. Local residents lead a life by the water that is very different from that of city dwellers in central districts.
We took the first of four free tours offered to the public each day at Rivière-des-Prairies generating station.
From the start, we were impressed by the view overlooking the island of Cheval-de-Terre – which we did not know existed –, connected to Laval by the only power station located in the heart of the largest consumption center of energy in Quebec.
Inside the interpretation center located at the reception, we learned that the construction of the power station between 1928 and 1930 practically coincides with the arrival of electrification in Montreal. The number of Montrealers paying for electricity services jumped from 10,471 in 1903 to 175,315 in 1924, as demand for gas plummeted.
The Rivière-des-Prairies Generating Station building stands out for its Art Deco-style architecture, because Montreal Light Heat And Power – long before the nationalization of electricity – wanted to impress potential customers and gild its image, explains our guide Noël Auguste. “We were in the middle of a stock market crash,” he recalls.
Only one of its six turbines is currently in operation – and a second in maintenance – so its production is minimal compared to other large power stations in Nord-du-Québec, but that of Rivière-des-Prairies is “the most colorful in Quebec,” our guide pointed out.
“You’re walking on water,” the guide then chimed in, whose image of a time machine to represent the power plant really appealed to the young children in our tour group.
It was his interest in dams and hydroelectricity production that led 12-year-old Maxime Moussally to encourage his parents to search the web to learn that you can visit Hydro- Quebec for free. Elsewhere in Quebec, one can notably visit the Manic-5 generating station and the Daniel-Johnson dam (Côte-Nord), the Carillon generating station (Laurentians) and, on the territory of Eeyou Istchee Baie-James, the Robert- Bourassa.
It should be noted that the Rivière-des-Prairies plant is a run-of-river plant, and not a reservoir with a dam. We simply use the mechanical force of the current to produce electricity. The plant creates an eight-meter drop of water between the upstream and downstream of the river.
We are among the people whose relationship to Hydro-Québec and energy consumption changed after watching the documentary theater play J’aime Hydro, by Christine Beaulieu. Since then, we have had an interest in everything related to electricity production.
During our visit, Noël Auguste talked about “the electricity of tomorrow” by highlighting the existence in Lac-Mégantic of the first islandable electricity microgrid in Quebec, which includes 2000 solar panels, home automation devices and a centralized control system in able to supply part of the new city center (which has been revived since the rail tragedy). As of this year, this “laboratory” is one of the Hydro-Québec sites that can be visited for free.
An intervention by a visitor from Switzerland, Eric Pashe, married to a Quebecer, also allowed the other members of the group to learn that in Switzerland, a new regulation requires that new buildings include solar panels. This is where guide Noël Auguste talked about the new bifacial (“recto-verso”) panels found in La Prairie and Varennes, and the solar park that has enabled the community of 400 residents of Quaqtaq, located in the far north of Quebec, to greatly reduce its gas needs.
The Rivière-des-Prairies hydroelectric power station can supply approximately 5,770 homes with a power of 12 MW. Hydro-Québec is currently wondering about the future of the plant, which is venerable in age.
One more reason to visit it with a construction helmet and headphones to reduce the noise of the turbines.
Underwater, you will learn at the end of the visit, there is even ultrasound that reproduces the sounds of dolphins. But we won’t tell you more…