With over 40% of Canada’s water resources, the province of Québec has developed enormous hydroelectric capacity, more than three times that of British Columbia, the second largest producer of hydropower in Canada. Its hydro installations on La Grande Rivière, also known as the James Bay Project, produce 99% of the province’s electricity output. With an installed capacity of almost 40,000 MW, Hydro-Québec, the government-owned public utility that operates almost all of the province’s hydro assets, is a major exporter to wholesale electricity markets in northeastern North America [i]. In addition to generating hydropower, Hydro-Québec buys wind power from several Québec producers and supports the development of bioenergy from agricultural waste [ii].
The abundance of Québec’s hydropower has afforded Québecers the lowest electricity rates in Canada[iii], and has given its businesses a competitive advantage in terms of energy costs. In addition, the system is almost 100% renewable, producing very low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and no toxic waste.
However, large-scale hydro dams have substantial environmental and social impacts stemming from the construction of large reservoirs and extensive road systems, which open up access to a host of extractive industries like logging and mining. Québec’s hydro legacy in James Bay is no exception. Among its biggest impacts has been the disturbance of vast areas of the fragile sub-arctic ecosystem, the permanent displacement of several indigenous communities, and dangerous mercury contamination of local water and food supplies[iv].
In spite of this, Hydro Québec remains committed to maintaining and increasing its hydropower capacity in the future, promoting it as integral to fighting climate change and sustaining Québec’s economy. In addition, the province has also undertaken investments in wind energy and other renewable sources, which it describes as ‘complementary’ to its hydro-based system[v].
[i] Hydro-Québec. 2015a. Hydro-Québec at a Glance. Retrieved 7 Aug 2015 from http://www.hydroquebec.com/about-hydro-quebec/who-are-we/hydro-quebec-glance.html.
[ii] Hydro-Québec. 2015b. Complementary Energy Sources. Retrieved 9 Aug 2015 from http://www.hydroquebec.com/about-hydro-quebec/our-energy/diversified-energy-portfolio.html.
[iii] Hydro One. 2015. Electricity rates by province. Retrieved 9 Aug 2015 from http://www.ontario-hydro.com/index.php?page=electricity_rates_by_province
[iv] Hornig, JF. (Ed). 1999. Social and Environmental Impacts of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
[v] Hydro-Québec. 2015a. Hydro-Québec at a Glance. Retrieved 7 Aug 2015 from http://www.hydroquebec.com/about-hydro-quebec/who-are-we/hydro-quebec-glance.html.