Quebec hydro-power coming to New England? Better think twice!

Jan 2, 2011

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A cautionary word regarding Big Electricity’s bid for “clean, green, renewable” hydro-power

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Calvin Luther Martin, PhD

Editor’s note:  This article is public domain.  You are welcome to circulate & post as you wish.

New England power companies are rapidly moving forward with an ambitious plan to import large amounts of Québec (Canada) hydro-power.  A plan that will require building costly and environmentally disturbing new trunklines to carry “clean electrons” from the James Bay watershed to American homes and businesses.

I’m told New England governors and their energy pals are already popping the corks on the champagne.

I suggest this is premature. I am from Québec. Grew up there. I live 10 minutes from the Québec border. When I was a Rutgers professor, one of my specialties was Canadian Indians (the subject of my first book). When I was a professor, I had a year-long Canadian Embassy fellowship to study the history of Québec at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), so I could teach the history of French Canada.

All by way of background.

Do these governors and their staffs and the energy lobby know how controversial the whole James Bay Project is in Québec? Indeed, throughout Canada? And most especially among the James Bay Cree and Canada’s First Nations in general?  (Think, “solidarity.”)

I think the answer is a thunderous “no!”  (I write this after reading a slick policy analysis of the proposal.)

Typical of all grandiose schemes, there are several “epistemic” (knowledge) holes.  Perhaps the biggest being the blind spot called “north of the border.”

The James Bay Project was the crown jewel of the Separatist crowd in the early ‘70s. And they kept building those dams. And as they did, the Cree and other First Nations kept getting madder and madder.

(Note to Americans: Canadian Indians are not like USA Indians. Canadian Indians have far more rights within the Canadian Constitution compared to American Indians under our Constitution. Canadian Indians are a major force to be reckoned with. Canadian Indians have been known basically to go to war with provincial governments—within the last several decades. Canadian Indians are not likely to be pushed around in Canada, the way “our” Indians are, here. New England governors and New England energy companies had better take notice of these warnings.)

Canada’s First Nations (they don’t call them “Indians” up there; they’re First Nations) are really pissed off about the whole James Bay thing.

Back, oh, 20 or so years ago, when Hydro-Québec (HQ) tried to finagle a power deal with New England states and NYS and NJ, the Cree mobilized. Ever hear of Chief Matthew Coon Come?  The Cree were on USA TV, they staged a theatrical, symbolic canoe trip down the Hudson.  They came to NYC, they came to NJ, and they talked before crowds—throngs—and the media.

They spoke with quiet passion about the tyrannical Québec government stealing their land and their way of life and their spirit (which is the land). They fanned French/English tensions (which are ancient and never heal).

And all the New England, NY, and NJ governors backed off the plan—even though it looked like a done deal.

The current crop of Northeastern governors and energy guys had better learn a little history, ‘cause it might go on the warpath again. (Remember George Santayana’s “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”)

Second point. Québecois may side with the First Nations. Indeed, in the standoffs and legal battles over James Bay hydropower, the First Nations had lots of popular support in Québec.

The take home message being, don’t be so glib about this coming to pass—from the Québec side of things. Or so glib about it remaining a “reliable source of power.”  Or about “energy security.” Canada is a foreign country, after all, and Québec (“Le petit nation,” as they’ve called themselves for generations) is a foreign country within the foreign country of Canada. Quebecois are very nationalistic.  (Read their license plate.  Get a French-English dictionary and translate.)

One more time, to really flog it.  This is a highly charged issue in Québec and, especially, among Canada’s (very powerful and, at the drop of a match, militant) First Nations.

Side note: If the Cree gain the sympathy of the Iroquois—literally, my neighbors—who straddle NYS, Quebec, and Ontario, the conflagration begins. The Six Nations Iroquois are already mad as hell about several issues which I won’t bore you with, mostly having to do with cigarettes—which they manufacture—and over Gestapo tactics by Canadian Customs and Border authorities (which my wife and I have personally experienced, by the way). Did you know the Iroquois next door to me took over a Canadian government border crossing a year ago, and it remains closed—by the Iroquois? (My wife, by the way, was the pediatrician for the St. Regis Mohawk Nation for some years, and she continues to have numerous Mohawk patients.)

Okay. There’s more to “Hey, let’s import Québec hydro-power!” than meets the politician’s eye. HQ does not command and control the First Nations.

Nor does it control the Québecois, who are a canny crowd with that infernal Gallic tendency to riot. (Americans are not used to this, despite our blather about 1776.)

This is electric power taken from First Nations’ souls, and they’re mad as a beaver on steroids. (By the way, my sense is that HQ is regarded by many Quebécois as a law unto itself.)

Now for an uncomfortable question.  (You should have known this was coming.) If Québec (let’s say, Hydro-Québec) has all this power to sell, real cheap—um, why isn’t it selling it to Ontario, which has soaring electricity rates (going higher as I speak) and which has bought wholesale into the wind energy economic fiasco?

To be blunt, Ontario is spilling its guts subsidizing over-the-top wind energy projects right, left, and center. Rural Ontario is in revolt. The Ontario Liberals may well lose the next election over this. These are high stakes, yes?

So, why didn’t the Ontario Liberals—Premier McGuinty—just work a deal with HQ to buy all that cheap, “clean, green, renewable” hydro?  (It’s a win-win!  Global warming runs out of gas in Ontario, Dr. Suzuki is rapturous—and nobody gets hurt!)

Something doesn’t add up.

For that matter, why isn’t HQ selling all this hydro to New Brunswick, PEI, and Nova Scotia, which likewise bought into  Big Wind—expensive provincial subsidies and very expensive rates for industry and domestic consumers?

I’m not done.  Why is the government of Québec jamming industrial turbines down the throat of numerous Québec communities? I mean, what’s the point of building (largely through government subsidy) gold-plated “wind farms” costing ratepayers ballooning electric bills, when, for Chrissakes, you’ve already got an overabundance of cheap “clean, green, renewable” electrons?

What am I missing?

  1. Comment by Dan McKay on 01/02/2011 at 5:42 pm

    You make some good points about wind generating facilities. The common person can see the logic of using hydro versus wind, but government policies are made by idiots. But, don’t feel alone, Canada, we have just as many brainless rule makers here in the USA.

  2. Comment by Tom Whitesell on 01/03/2011 at 1:33 pm

    What are you missing? (Excuse me… respectfully submitted).

    1. Why not just “do” more hydro at James Bay? A little background on the environmental cost would be illuminating. Maybe it’s pretty common knowledge. Wow!
    2. While various New England governors and HQ are anxious to begin massive expansion of James Bay exports to the US, the US is exporting huge amounts of petroleum products and at the same time proselytizing about oil shortages, the need for US oil independence. And so on. Canada should take care of Canada. The US should take care of the US. Canada can do its own battle with its citizens, and with the sovereign nations who are its neighbors.
    3. Clean, green electrons? All the way back to the millions of acres of wilderness and Native land which have already been permanently drowned to feed our energy gluttony?
    4. I’ve just read a book “Power Hungry” which I find highly informative. I don’t agree with all of the author’s points, but as a source of meaningful, true data and a pragmatic assessment of energy sources, this is an educational windfall. We all need to get educated about the world’s energy future, because there is no simple fix. We need to find out what are the right questions to be asking, and the media, the governments, and the energy merchants are not offering us the right questions.

    You are not missing much! You keep finding and posting the most important, relevant and not widely known information. You are helping people all over the world.

    Thank you.

  3. Comment by Anonymous on 10/16/2011 at 5:23 pm

    Getting power from Hydro-Quebec makes sense both economically and environmentally. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia provinces don’t buy electricity from them for political reasons.

The comments are closed.