The Quebec government has announced $100 million in spending to develop new electric-car technology, sparking renewed concern that the move to alternative fuels in Europe and the U.S. will lead to the construction of new hydro dams in James Bay.

Hydro-Quebec has aggressively promoted the use of alternative fuels like hydrogen and electricity, which the utility says could be clean sources of fuel for the world’s cars, buses and industry. Hydro-Quebec entered into an agreement in 1990 along with Daimler-Benz, Airbus Industries and 36 other European and Canadian partners to develop a plant in Sept-Iles where hydroelectricity would be used to produce hydrogen for export to Europe. The plan is called the Euro-Quebec Hydrogen Pilot Project.

More recently, Quebec Premier Daniel Johnson announced that if re-elected on Sept. 12 his government will spend $100 million on research and development into electric cars. The $100 million in spending, announced on August 19, comes on top of $60 million in spending on the hydrogen-export project announced by Hydro-Quebec and its European partners in Oct. 1993.

Johnson told reporters that Quebec, with its vast hydroelectric resources and expertise, will have a decisive edge in the emerging alternative-fuel industry.

Legislation in California requires that as of 1998, two per cent of new cars sold in the state must be electric-powered. By 2001, the figure rises to 5 per cent, and 10 percent by 2003. Similar laws exist in other U.S. states, and many European

carmakers are developing cars that use electricity or hydrogen.

“We think it’s a promising sector,” Denis L’Homme, the provincial Assistant Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, said in an interview with The Nation. “The use of hydrogen is interesting as far as the environment is concerned.”

Not everyone agrees about the positive effects on the environment. Luis Eguren, coordinator of the Cree campaign against the Great Whale project, said that both Hydro-Quebec’s hydrogen-export plan and its electric-car technology are designed to create new markets for the utility’s hydroelectricity. The new markets will give Hydro-Quebec more of an excuse to go ahead with Great Whale and NBR.

Eguren pointed to a report on renewable energy recently put out by the German carmaker Daimler-Benz which featured a map of the proposed flow of energy from Quebec to Europe. The energy starts off from a dam on the Nottaway River in James Bay (a river which currently has no dams), then goes by power-line to the Sept-Iles facility where the conversion to hydrogen takes place. The hydrogen is loaded on a ship and taken across the Atlantic Ocean to Hamburg, Germany.

“We’ll be paying the price here in Canada to sell clean cars in Europe,” said Eguren. “It may be good for them, but it’s bad for us.”

Francois Tanguay, a Greenpeace energy specialist, said hydrogen has great promise as a clean fuel source, but added it’s doubtful whether Hydro-Quebec could supply the hydrogen to Europe at a competitive price.

“It’s insane—taking energy halfway around the planet so others can have clean cars,” he said.

“It cannot and should not be done at the expense of First Nations.”