At 8 a.m. on January 19, Hydro-Quebec proved once and for all that it doesn’t need to build any new hydroelectric dams, say environmentalists. On one of the coldest days of the winter, the utility coped easily with a record energy demand—29,939 megawatts. It even had some capacity to spare. Hydro-Quebec’s total capacity is 33,600 megawatts.

The overcapacity prompted ecologists to question the utility’s rationale for five new dams—Eastmain-1 (which will add 465 MW to Hydro-Quebec’s grid), Great Whale (3,210 MW), Ste-Marguerite project (820 MW), Ashuapmushuan (730 MW) and Haut-St-Maurice (615 MW).

Hydro-Quebec has repeatedly justified the dams by claiming that electricity demand is rising. In fact, sales have fallen over the last five years, pointed out the energy-research group Au Courant. Demand for power is falling because the recession has battered aluminum and other industrial power-users. Exports to the U.S. have fallen because the Northeast states have a power glut of their own. Ontario Hydro has also found itself with a surplus and is competing with Hydro-Quebec for export markets.

To make matters worse, Au Courant said, four new hydro-dams are coming on-line which are going to further exacerbate the power surplus. Brisay (380 MW) entered operation at the end of 1993; Laforge-1 (820 MW) is currently coming on-line; Laforge-2 (290 MW) will come on-line in 1996; and La Grande-1 (1,310 MW) will enter operation gradually between this spring and the end of 1995.

The ecologists predict that within a few years, Hydro-Quebec could have a surplus of 7,500 MW.