Hydro-Quebec has lost another export contract to the U.S. This time it was an 800-megawatt deal that was up for renewal. It would have extended well into the next century.

David Freeman, the new head of the New York Power Authority, announced on March 2 that he was recommending the cancellation of the deal. New England and Quebec are awash in energy. “Why commit ourselves to an energy deal when we might not need this energy for 15 years?” he asked.

Greenpeace’s position is very similar. At hearings in New York, we argued that since there is an energy glut and since we have just seen the tip of the iceberg as far as energy efficiency is concerned, it would be ludicrous to pour any more cement “up North” or to build gas-burning plants near the cities.

We further argued that bad planning by Hydro has led to what they now call surpluses, but that are in fact losses. All these so-called surpluses are sold off at bargain prices to major industrial customers at the expense of other ratepayers. The aluminum industry alone got rate reductions of over $235 million last year.

Just how much energy will we need to keep up with our greedy demand? The argument that mega-projects are needed to create jobs has run out of steam. The last dam that was given the go-ahead, the Ste-Marguerite-3 project, will create only 4,500 jobs over the 10 years of the construction. At the same time, Hydro’s energy-efficiency program, which will cost exactly the same amount over the next decade, will create 38,000 jobs, according to the utility’s own numbers.

We concluded our presentation with this note: If you buy the electricity, we will be saddled with the debt, the dams, the buried lands, the angry natives, not to mention the frustrated taxpayers. You are not buying a commodity. You are purchasing your way into our social problems.

At this point, what is lacking is an open-hearted debate, a democratic forum in which we can freely discuss our options and in the end come to some political and social decisions that would lead all to believe in a better future for all.

Francois Tanguay heads the energy campaign of Greenpeace Quebec.