My Turn: Let’s stick to facts on Quebec hydropower

  • Suzanne Steele (right) speaks to Pessamit Innu tribal elder Malec Hervieux of Quebec in Concord on July 20. AP

For the Monitor
Friday, August 11, 2017

The letter “Cultural genocide” couldn’t be further from reality and is offensive (Monitor Letters, Aug. 8).

The title alone left us very surprised, and we feel that it is a misconception of both Quebec hydropower development – which is clean energy in a world which is more and more carbon constrained – and our relations with First Nations, which should be called partnerships or collaboration.

First, on the subject of greenhouse gases from hydropower:

Since there is less vegetation in the regions where boreal reservoirs are located, there is less decomposition, and therefore fewer GHGs. This is precisely the case in northern Quebec: boreal reservoirs emit far fewer GHGs than their tropical counterparts. Serious scientific review has demonstrated that Quebec hydropower is a clean energy source with very low greenhouse gas emissions, representing just one-fiftieth of thermal energy derived from natural gas, a fifth of photovoltaic solar power, and about the same as wind power. Recent scientific studies referred to in the letter published in the Concord Monitor are clear on this point: in environments where high levels of oxygen are found, such as in Quebec, there are lower GHG levels, and methane is present in only very small quantities.

Hydro-Quebec’s exports displace fossil fuel power generation in markets outside Quebec, thereby extending the benefits of its clean energy to them. Last year, our net power exports helped avoid close to 8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – equivalent to emissions from 1,750,000 vehicles.

Our relations with First Nations

We categorically refute the allegations of the Innu of Pessamit, who state that increasing our exports will adversely affect the Betsiamites River. This presumption is not a fact. The clean energy transmitted to our neighbors to the south comes from the entire Hydro-Quebec grid, not any particular region or generating station. We have a total of 62 hydroelectric generating stations, of which only two – Bersimis-1 and Bersimis-2 – are located on the Betsiamites River.

Hydro-Québec strictly abides by the operating rules of generating stations on the Betsiamites River, which were drawn up in collaboration with the community of Pessamit. Salmon studies done in the 1990s served as a basis for the definition of these operating rules, which include the establishment of an ecological instream flow regime to protect the environment and preserve the river’s salmon population.

Hydro-Quebec, working with the community of Pessamit, carried out a salmon restoration program in the Betsiamites River, with impressive results. After the river was stocked with young fish between 1999 and 2010, the estimated numbers of large salmon returning went from 480 in 2002 to over 1,000 in 2006 and 2007. In fact, a committee of independent experts recognized that the program enabled significantly higher salmon returns, and underscored the importance for the community of Pessamit to follow a fishing plan to ensure the long-term maintenance of a salmon population in the river.

It is Hydro-Quebec’s view that the fluctuations in abundance of big salmon are largely related to regional climatic factors and the community’s fishing practices.

Hydro-Quebec maintains respectful, constructive relationships with the indigenous communities that host its facilities. Since 1975, we have entered into some 30 agreements with First Nations in Quebec. Through these agreements, the communities become active partners in the projects, take part in environmental follow-up programs and enjoy substantial economic benefits.

(Lynn St-Laurent is media and public affairs adviser for Hydro-Quebec.)