Canadian Groups Battle Large-Scale Hydropower Bound for U.S. Electricity Markets
[Note: This a guest post from Ioana Radu of Fondation Rivieres (Rivers Foundation), an environmental advocacy organization based in Quebec]
As part of electricity restructuring efforts in the last few years, 25 states have adopted a Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS). This new policy promotes renewable energy sources that are consistent and compatible with competitive electricity markets and if efficiently implemented can develop 3,800 MW of new renewable energy capacity and maintain another 3,600 MW of existing capacity that might otherwise go off line. The RPS obliges retailers to include in their portfolios energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Such a move makes economic sense as the Energy Information Administration showed that by 2020 the nation’s energy bill can be lowered by $15 billion per year with only a 10% renewable-based energy supply compared to a heavily fossil-based supply mix.
North of the border in La Belle Province, Quebec, the public utility Hydro-Quebec is eager to capitalize on rising energy prices and high demand from the Northeastern and New York sates. Last year, the construction of the 780MW EM1A Rupert River Diversion project got on a shaky start as environmental NGOs and dissident indigenous Cree groups mounted and lost an opposition campaign. This year the Environmental Impact Assessment for a new 1550MW project on the Romaine River on the North Shore, Quebec, was submitted for approval. At a $6.5 billion price tag, the Romaine project is intended solely for export compared to the Rupert who was justified as meeting local provincial energy needs, which has ticked off three major environmental NGOs: Rivers Foundation, Nature Quebec, and Société pour Vaincre la Pollution (SVP – Society for overcoming pollution).
The Romaine River can be counted amongst the last large pristine rivers in the world. In fact, of the fifteen major rivers in Quebec, thirteen already have dams. The 4 mega-dam project will inundate the entire river from a 90 foot waterfall, Grande Chute, to the Labrador border (more than 200km away) as well as a number of lakes, deltas and lower reaches of major tributaries. The 107.8 sq miles of reservoir surface is larger than Boston city area (89.6 sq miles) or almost twice the size of Washington DC (68.3 sq miles). In the mouth of the Romaine lies the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, home to rare puffins, penguins, seals, dolphins and nine species of whales, including the endangered Humpback Whale and the world’s largest mammal, the Blue Whale. At least 4 species listed by Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): the wolverine, American eel, woodland caribou, and peregrine flacon, will be negatively impacted. Significant pollution of the coastal zone may be caused by incremental loadings of mercury discharged from the dams. Mercury levels in fish may remain elevated for up to 30 years and constitutes an important health issue, particularly for local communities that depend on fish as a dietary staple.
Hydropower is invariably promoted as a “clean” energy source, at least with regard to emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), despite the fact that independent research has shown that over their lifetime, GHG emissions from some boreal (Northern Manitoba) and tropical (Brazil) hydro-electric reservoirs may either be equivalent to, or greatly exceed, those from coal burning power plants of the same generating capacity.
Most surprising the Romaine project does not qualify for the Renewable Energy Certificates or the RPS adopted by the 25 states, including the two main importers, New York and New England states. The three environmental NGOs are also attacking the utility’s slow implementation of renewables, especially since Quebec has a total available wind capacity in excess of 100,000 MW. Information also leaked last year that the provincial government and Hydro-Quebec have turned down in 2005 a 4000MW deal proposed by Siemens who set up a wind power division in the United States that has received over 1400MW of orders worth approximately $1.7 billion.
The Rivers Foundation, Nature Québec and SVP are launching their campaign though a scientific fact-finding whitewater rafting trip on the Romaine River that will take place this month. As the main source of scientific counter expertise their mission is to sensitize the public, especially Hydro Quebec’s buyers, to the environmental impacts of the Romaine project. They hope to broaden the energy debate at home and chip away at the utility’s image of ‘clean’ energy provider, a politically charged undertaking given the that Hydro Quebec is the largest revenue contributor of the Quebec government.
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Photo: FreeWine via flickr under a Creative Commons License