Hydro-Quebec looking south to new markets

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Gov. Peter Shumlin discuss the relationship between Vermont and Quebec during a dinner ceremony at a energy conference in Burlington on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Gov. Peter Shumlin discuss the relationship between Vermont and Quebec during a dinner ceremony at a energy conference in Burlington on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Hydro-Quebec and its owner, the province of Quebec, indicated Monday that they want Northeast states to build new high-voltage power lines to carry hydropower south.

The province has “vast resources” of hydroelectric power and wants to send more of it to urban markets where electricity is in high demand.

“If we want to go further and extend our trade, we need to extend our transmission capacity,” Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said during a dinner ceremony with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin following an energy conference in Burlington on Monday.

Hydro-Quebec, the province’s electric utility, is building four new hydroelectric dams capable of delivering 1,550 megawatts of power — enough electricity to serve 1.5 million New England homes.

The utility exports to New England, New York, Ontario and New Brunswick. The company has 30 terawatt-hours of hydropower available for export, about half of which is contracted to supply utilities in New England. Vermont utilities contract for 1.2 terawatt-hours of electricity.

“I would like to think there is a hydro opportunity for the region,” said Stephen Molodetz, vice president of business development for Hydro Quebec U.S.

To attract investments in transmission lines, Molodetz said the region should split the costs of projects among ratepayers, change project-siting processes and offer a “fuel diversity bonus” for hydropower.

There are two interconnections with New England — an 1,800 MW transmission line to western Massachusetts and a 225 MW line in Vermont. The company is partnering on another transmission line that would carry hydropower from Quebec into New Hampshire. The Northern Pass project has run into stiff public opposition from residents who fear it will scar the White Mountain National Forest.

At least two similar projects are proposed in Vermont by New York-based TDI New England and Massachusetts-based Anbaric. The projects both would pass beneath Lake Champlain and cross underground through southern Vermont. HQ has not publicly announced support for either project.

Environmentalists warn the projects could harm Vermont’s landscape. And other alternatives, such as upgrades to existing interconnections, have not been considered, according to Sandra Levine, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation.

CLF is a party in a regulatory case involving TDI New England’s application for a state permit to build a 1,000 megawatt, $1.2 billion transmission line under Lake Champlain. She said the project has environmental impacts yet to be fully studied.

“For the most part, they are digging up a big trench and placing down a transmission line and waiting for the sediment to settle. It releases sediment into the lake. And releases phosphorous. There is also heat associated with the transmission line during its operation that has an impact on the critters and plants that live in the water and that live at the bottom of the lake,” she said.

Vermont’s energy history with Quebec

The University of Vermont hosted the two-day conference this week to discuss the region’s energy relationship as well the social and economic impact of hydropower. The conference opened by focusing on Vermont’s history with Quebec. Shumlin said the relationship to Quebec is “absolutely critical” to Vermont’s energy future.

He said hydropower has helped the state’s economy and provided baseload generation to help build out other renewables such as wind and solar. Vermont was the first to consider large-scale hydropower as renewable energy.

“We were the first state to call hydropower green power regardless of size,” Shumlin said Monday night.

Vermont utilities first contracted for power from Hydro-Quebec in 1987. The state then replaced the contract that began in 2012 to supply 225 megawatts of power for 26 years, which is about a quarter of Vermont’s consumption.

But as Quebec brings new dams online, First Nation communities displaced by reservoirs say they still struggle to have a say in new projects. For decades, First Nation communities have been pushed aside for development projects, according to Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.

“We find ourselves in 2015 very frustrated. The political process has not evolved as much as the issue itself has evolved,” Picard said.

In the 1990s, when early projects were being constructed, Picard said the Cree people traveled to New England in search of support.

“You’re one of the consumers of our hydro. It’s important for you to realize that the bigger the demand is, the more impact it has on our lands where we still continue to hunt and fish,” Picard said.

Since 1975, HQ has signed about 30 agreements with First Nation communities regarding development projects. Molodetz, of HQ, said the company has a process to consider local support for development projects.

“HQ takes it very seriously,” he said. “The projects don’t move forward if it’s not accepted by the community through that process.”

Quebec could avoid building new dams if it improved its own energy conservation, some advocates say. Low electricity prices — about 8 cents per kilowatt-hour for residential customers — and demand for electric heating has created relatively high electricity consumption in the province.

Pierre Arcand

Pierre Arcand, Quebec’s’ minister of Energy and Natural Resources, spoke during an energy conference in Burlington on Monday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“We’re not very good in energy efficiency, let’s say it. Someone said to me the other day, ‘You are the Hummers of green energy,’” said Pierre Arcand, Quebec’s’ Minister of Energy and Natural Resources.

Vermont officials say there may an opportunity for Vermont to help drive down Quebec’s electricity consumption by expanding efficiency programs that have been successful here. Quebec officials agree.

“One area where Vermont can help us is in the area of energy efficiency,” Arcand said.

Environmentalists say hydropower should be used to balance intermittent renewables, like wind and solar, and not replace them. They point out that traditional hydropower floods large areas of land that affects wildlife, native populations and releases greenhouse gas emissions.

“We should not be writing a blank check to destroy vast areas of northern Quebec to satisfy an energy appetite in southern New England. It’s great we’re closing down coal plants, but we shouldn’t be trading one environmental disaster for another,” Levine said.

John Herrick

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16 Comments on "Hydro-Quebec looking south to new markets"


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George Plumb
1 year 9 months ago
Many thanks to CLF and Sandra Levine for speaking out about the environmental destructiveness of the Hydro-Quebec dams. However, instead of speaking in just general terms it would be a lot more meaningful if actual data was provided. How many dams have already been built and the ecosystems of the rivers destroyed as a result? How many miles of those mammoth dams have been constructed? How many tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of acres of forest have been destroyed and can no longer sequester carbon? How many miles of roads have gone into those once primitive forests? How many… Read more »
Ed Letourneau
1 year 9 months ago

The dams are built and filled. Tell me how not buying power from them will fix that, or how buying power from fossil plants in other states will make the life of Vermonters better?

Annette Smith
1 year 9 months ago
Did you read the article? It says “as Quebec brings new dams online, First Nation communities displaced by reservoirs say they still struggle to have a say in new projects.” One of the new dams is on the Romaine River. Here’s an article from 2010 http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/dam-threatens-heart-of-canada%E2%80%99s-wilderness-3494 Here’s a good article with photos and a map and more details, including this about power cost. The new dams are much more expensive to build and the power costs more. And of course they are environmentally and socially destructive. http://blogs.nicholas.duke.edu/monkey-ropes/adieu-romaine/ “According to Hydro Quebec’s impact assessment, power produced from the Romaine will cost… Read more »
1 year 9 months ago

Damning the Romaine, TRAGIC.

Makes one want to pursue other energy sources, even it doesn`t fit in the main stream illusion box. EG people still believe
building 7,if they are even aware it existed,
came down due to office fires. And the Pentagon, really???

It`s very difficult to imagine any substantial social advancement will develop until people face their cognitive dissonance so they are able to comprehend what in the world,and out, is really what.

Willem Post
1 year 9 months ago


The additional damage to Vermont by building out wind turbines on ridgelines and solar panels in meadows would trash Vermont, AND provide heavily subsidized, variable, intermittent energy, i.e., junk energy, at 2- 5 times NE wholesale prices.

A MAJOR adverse headwind for Vermont’s fragile, near-zero-growth economy.

Vermont and all of NE are very lucky to have friendly, nearby Canada with an abundant, low-cost, near-CO2-free, energy at about 5-7 c/kWh available under long term 20-year contracts.

NE should take advantage of it ASAP.

Willem Post
1 year 9 months ago
Kevin, Increased Wind Energy versus Increased Canadian Hydro Energy Annette Smith writes: “ISO-NE’s 2014 electricity outlook projects based on public policy and economic choices being made now that in the future the grid mix will be 55% natural gas, 40% wind and 5% other.” See URLs. http://vtdigger.wpengine.com/2015/02/13/changes-net-metering-energy-projects-proposed/#comments What will tomorrow’s energy mix look like? See page 16 http://www.iso-ne.com/aboutiso/fin/annl_reports/2000/2014_reo.pdf Let us look at some numbers to see what it would take to implement the future energy mix mentioned in the ISO-NE report. New England consumes about 125,000 GWh/yr., of which Vermont’s consumption is about 5,600 GWh/yr. With more heat pumps and… Read more »
John McClaughry
1 year 9 months ago

When the Cree and their Vermont lawyer came to the Senate in 1991 (or so), I asked the Cree spokesman if he believed that his tribal elders, who had extracted $500 million from HQ for 11,000 Crees at James Bay, had gotten a poor deal for the tribe. He got very uncomfortable and softly said, “No”.

Don Peterson
1 year 9 months ago
let there be no mistaking the point of this meet and greet photo op– the purpose here is to lay the ground work for another high tension corridor down the length of the green mountains. Vermont already has access to HQ power so it has nothing to do with current ratepayers, except that they are going to be asked to pay for something perhaps. Northern Pass has run into resistance, so HQ is exploring a route through Vermont in its place. Southern NE is very interested in getting hold of cheap hydropower, and if Vermont is in the way, well… Read more »
Annette Smith
1 year 9 months ago
I don’t know about that. There are already several proposals including a couple in Maine, here’s more about them http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/19/proposed-transmission-projects-aim-tap-canadian-hydroelectricity/YoVY80MLZ6DVYTxZz401EJ/story.html# “With ISO New England, the region’s grid operator, forecasting potential shortages by 2017, policy makers are looking to Canadian hydro — and so are utilities hoping to profit by transporting the power south. The proposed transmission projects include: ■ Northern Pass, a $1.4 billion, 187-mile transmission line pushed by Northeast Utilities that would bring power from Canada’s Hydro-Quebec into Southern New England. ■ The New England Clean Power Link, a $1.2 billion, 154-mile project that would run from the Canadian… Read more »
Willem Post
1 year 9 months ago
Annette/Don, The fantasy of Vermont having “energy independence”, using home-grown renewable energy, without greatly increased energy efficiency and significant lifestyle changes, is an utter pipe dream. Look at the efficiency and lifestyle changes you made to be off the grid. Apply that to all other economy activities to get an idea of what would be required. NOTE: The energy efficiency and lifestyle changes should be implemented BEFORE, or at least in parallel with any RE buildouts. That RE fantasy, if implemented, would trash the ridgelines and meadows of the state, AND it would be very expensive capital wise and energy… Read more »
Bruce Farr
1 year 9 months ago

With regard to the TDI New England project the author mentioned, although the greater percentage of the power cables will indeed be buried, there are areas along the designated route where it will be “aerial,” or exposed. These “aerial” points are slated to cross rivers and streams and pop out of the ground where culverts and other natural and man-made conditions prevent them from being buried. At the very least, these plans need further scrutiny before they should be allowed to go ahead.

Annette Smith
1 year 9 months ago

The developers of TDI used the usual suspects that we see in almost all energy applications filed with the PSB. Doesn’t inspire confidence in the quality of the work. But the PSB routinely accepts as gospel what the developers present.

I had heard that TDI was doing a better job of public outreach and addressing concerns, but when I saw the filings in the petition and who was hired as experts, it was disappointing.

Moshe Braner
1 year 9 months ago
As often is the case in electricity-related reports, the units of measurement are inconsistent and confusing. Here: “… building four new hydroelectric dams capable of delivering 1,550 megawatts of power — enough electricity to serve 1.5 million New England homes. … The company has 30 terawatt-hours of hydropower available for export, about half of which is contracted to supply utilities in New England. Vermont utilities contract for 1.2 terawatt-hours of electricity.” – the latter paragraph is meaningless without a time-span – per year, presumably. And with the inconsistent units, it cannot be directly compared with the first paragraph. Assuming they… Read more »
Claude Boucher
1 year 9 months ago

You’re right of course. La Romaine complex includes 4 dams, including Ro-2, which has been commissioned in December 2014, with a combined capacity of 1,550 MW. The planned annual output of the dams is 8 TWh per year.

As of 2014, Hydro-Québec exports approximately 30 TWh per year to neighboring power grids (New England, New York, Ontario and New Brunswick). Vermont gets 1.2 TWh a year from Quebec, but deliveries are concentrated when Vermont needs it (16 hours a day, 7 days a week, IIRC), which comes close to 200 MW.

1 year 9 months ago

So many more jobs could be created through distributed energy systems such as local solar installations. Why buy from Canada when we can save the environment and produce more jobs for New Yorkers?

Willem Post
1 year 9 months ago
Sandy, Too much RE Kool-Aid is harmful for your economic wellbeing. These RE jobs would be EXPENSIVELY created and the RE projects would produce EXPENSIVE energy. Investments in RE projects would divert scarce funds from more profitable activities in OTHER sectors of the Vermont economy, i.e., much greater job losses in these OTHER sectors than any job gains in RE sectors, for a net LOSS of jobs. The expensive energy, at about 2-5 times NE wholesale prices, would be a major headwind for Vermont’s fragile, near-zero-growth economy. Here are the energy prices of the dysfunctional SPEED program for projects less… Read more »
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