The Vermont Senate is moving quickly to pass a bill that would see Hydro-Québec granted status as a renewable-energy source which could in turn increase energy exports to the state.

In that each of the U.S.’s 50 states has its own Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) when it comes to defining which forms of energy are renewable, if Vermont passes the bill, it could mean an increase of energy exports from Quebec.

Nationally however, in the U.S., Hydro-Québec does not meet the standards because the bulk of its energy is derived from what is often tagged as “big hydro.” Vermont would be the only state with this legal definition.

According to Green-E, a U.S. body that certifies environmental commodities and products that mitigate climate change and build a sustainable energy future, Hydro falls short. Green-E, under its Definition of Eligible Renewables, defines renewable hydro as:

Hydropower from new generation capacity on a non-impoundment or new generation capacity on an existing impoundment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

a) The hydropower facility is certified by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute;

b) The facility is a run-of-the-river hydropower facility with a total rated nameplate capacity equal to or less than 5 MW. Multiple turbines will not be counted separately and cannot add up to more than a 5 MW nameplate capacity; or

c) The hydropower facility consists of a turbine in a pipeline or a turbine in an irrigation canal.

While the politics are moving fast, as was reported in the last edition of the Nation (Vol. 17, No. 13), there are still groups on both sides of the border that are examining the role that increased hydroelectric exports could play in the U.S. and their impacts on everything from the environment to Aboriginal groups.

According to Hugo Séguin, a senior advisor for Équiterre, one of the handful of groups studying these impacts, Vermont’s legislative actions will not change the progress of the studies.

“What is important for our organizations is to delve into the main topics that are involved with energy exports. We are not in favour of one or the other right now. We just want to look at all of the issues and then make up our minds about whether or not or under which conditions increased exports of energy from Quebec to the U.S. would be acceptable from a socio-economic and environmental perspective. This is really what we are aiming at through our work program, but while we are studying the issue, governments do act. We are not working in parallel,” said Séguin.

Séguin said the environmental groups, which include Équiterre, the Canadian Boreal Initiative and U.S.-based Conservation Law Foundation and the Pew Environment Group, are conducting the studies to eventually take them to decision-making bodies on both sides of the border as well as Hydro-Québec.

In Canada, the impacts of increased energy exportations to the U.S. are being looked at in terms of feasibility, increasing the capacities of increasing dams, greenhouse gas production, the impacts on the ecosystems where dams have been created and the socio-economic impacts on the communities they affect, such as the Cree.

In the U.S., they are also being looked at in terms of how Hydro could displace energy derived from coal in reality and not just in theory. Another major concern that is being looked at is whether increased Hydro imports could possibly displace the production of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

Two of the groups conducting these studies, the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Pew Environment Group, have stated they would be in opposition of the exports if it meant damming another river in Quebec.

Séguin however said increased sales might not mean another dam on Quebec land as Hydro has a lot of extra energy to sell.

“Hydro-Québec could easily sell off extra energy or surpluses they produce because domestic consumption in Quebec has gone down. This is mainly because of the recession, but also because large industrial players have shut down and disappeared from the map which leaves huge surpluses that could be sold without constructing any new dams,” said Séguin.

For the time being Vermont is the only state that is moving forward with declaring Hydro-Québec a renewable energy source. The aforementioned environmental groups conducting the impact studies are anticipating the completion of their studies by the end of 2010.