Hydro-Québec has signed a tentative C$20-billion deal with New York State that will see the utility export 10.4 terawatt-hours of electricity per year for the next 25 years, pending approval from both sides of the border.
Premier François Legault called the agreement-in-principle “huge news for the environment,” adding that it will help the state wean itself off fossil fuels, allow “more financial autonomy for Quebec,” and represent a meaningful step towards the province becoming “the green battery of North America.”
“It’s good for Quebec, it’s good for New York, and it’s good for the planet,” he said.
The deal includes construction a 60-kilometre transmission line with the Mohawks of Kahnawake as part owners, alongside Hydro-Québec. In a release, the provincially-owned utility said the partnership “will secure economic benefits for the community over a 40-year period.”
New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared the project a win for climate justice that “will ensure millions of New Yorkers, especially those living in our most vulnerable communities, can have the promise of cleaner air and a healthier future.”
The Montreal Gazette points out that the power line on the Quebec side of the border is just a first step in getting Quebec hydropower to New York, and to New York City in particular. It will have to connect to the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), a 546-kilometre, underground and underwater line running from La Prairie, Quebec, all the way to Queens, “with interconnection occurring under Lake Champlain.”
Hydro-Québec stressed the “long list of economic benefits” it says will come with the CHPE, including a $40-million Green Economy Fund, designed to support residents living in disadvantaged and front-line communities by providing them with new job training opportunities. The plan also includes a $117-million Environmental Trust Fund, focused on improving the health of Lake Champlain and the Hudson and Harlem Rivers.
But others aren’t buying it. In a release, the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance said the CHPE will “adversely impact the ecosystems of the Hudson River,” with particular risks for the river’s famous Atlantic Sturgeon population. Rejecting Hochul’s description of the project as a “win-win,” the Alliance cited ongoing negative impacts of “megadams” on Indigenous peoples.
The Alliance release pointed to a May letter sent by the Innu First Nation of Pessamit, the Atikamekw First Nation of Wemotaci, and the three Anishnabek First Nations of Pikogan, Lac Simon, and Kitcisakik to New York City Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, “denouncing and strongly condemning the detrimental effects that CHPE and the power it would carry has on their lives and traditional territories.”
“Our community is located at the foot of a dam which inundated a large area of our ancestral territory equal in size to the island of Manhattan (59.1 mi2),” said Kitcisakik Chief Régis Penosway, in a statement cited in an earlier Alliance release. “Although surrounded by Hydro-Québec installations,our homes have no electricity or running water and have no wastewater management infrastructure.Our First Nations have enabled Quebec to industrialize and the majority of its citizens to access a better quality of life, but the health and well-being indicators for our communities continue to be comparable to those in third-world countries.”
The Gazette adds that “coupled with a 2018 agreement to sell electricity to Massachusetts, the New York contract will limit Hydro-Québec’s future capacity to sign other large export deals because demand inside the province is expected to climb substantially over the next decade,” with greenhouses, data centres, and electric cars set to drive a 9% jump in energy demand by 2029. [On the other hand, much of that new demand can be met through a national building retrofit mission that frees up terawatt-hours of supply by replacing highly inefficient electric resistance heaters with heat pumps—Ed.]