As U.S. President Barack Obama sets out to move forward on a big energy and climate bill that would see renewable energy sources sold to power companies at better rates, Quebec sets out to get a piece of the pie.
Over the last five years, Quebec Premier Jean Charest has made no secret of his attempts to develop the U.S. market and should he manage to get hydroelectric power declared as “renewable” under American specifications, it would allow for more energy to be sold to the States.
This is why groups on both sides of the border have been called in to commission a series of studies on the impacts of hydroelectricity production from greenhouse-gas emissions to its social impacts. The studies will take into consideration Quebec’s latest northern boreal forest management plans for both conservation and sustainable development.
Canadian groups Équiterre and the Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) have teamed up with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Pew Environment Group in the States. They have joined forces not only to assess these impacts but also to look at the role hydro could play among other energy providers in the northeastern U.S.
“Charest has big plans with the Plan Nord and for as much as they have not fully been unveiled, his government already has a direction outlined with what they want to do with energy. They want to develop 8000 megawatts of new energy production with a small part of it being wind power,” said Suzann Méthot of CBI.
Méthot said that from her perspective they will be looking at Quebec’s desire to increase their exports and production and whether selling more energy to the States would mean damming more of Quebec’s rivers for energy production – a concern that worries groups in both countries.
Finding out if greater sales are possible without creating new hydro projects is a major concern for all groups. Quebec’s energy potential within its existing dams will also need to be assessed as part of the studies for this reason.
Quebec’s Aboriginal groups, including the Cree, will also have a role to play in these studies because of the social and environmental impacts they have had on Aboriginal communities.
“In looking at the Great Whale case, we want to know if the Grand Council still stands where it did back in the ’90s,” said Méthot.
While the project has been on the shelf since the ’90s, the studies want to look at whether an increased demand from the U.S. would mean revisiting older projects such as Great Whale or if it will pave the way for new ones.
South of the border, Matthew Jacobson, who is heading up the studies for the Pew Environmental Group, said there’s a growing concern that if Charest gets the renewable stamp of approval new hydroelectric sales could undermine sales of other forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power.
Whether or not New England should be buying more power from Quebec is a question Jacobson said he cannot answer right now. But it’s what his organization will be investigating given that some parts of New England are currently purchasing up to 80% of its energy from fossil-fuel production.
While Jacobson said he was very involved in the U.S. fight to stop the Great Whale project back in the ’90s, greenhouse-gas emissions were never something that was taken into consideration because that type of data was not available at the time. Greenhouse gasses along with ecosystem impacts from big reservoirs and as well the social impacts of these projects are also a major concern for U.S. clients.
“On one side there are people who are talking about how hydroelectricity production is terribly destructive to the environment, but on the other side Hydro-Québec is saying that it has zero impacts. The truth is somewhere in between and we need to have a real dialogue about that,” said Jacobson.
Most importantly, Jacobson said the big difference between the fight in the ’90s and now is that each of these issues needs to be separated and looked at individually instead of lumping them all together.
At the same time, Jacobson wonders if New England purchases more energy from Quebec, would it mean that these states would actually displace sales of energy derived from coal production or would just mean greater energy consumption.