13 April 2011
Hydro remains an environmentally sound power sourceThe article “Hydro power’s dirty side”, published in last Saturday’s The Gazette not only contains a number of factual errors, it presents a one-sided argument. We would like to provide a more balanced perspective on Hydro-Québec’s hydropower projects.
Québec Hydropower: Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The errors related to greenhouse gas emissions from hydropower reservoirs were amongst the most glaring in this article. Let’s set the record straight.
First and foremost, the article mentions large amounts of methane emissions. Methane emissions are not an issue in Québec because the water in our reservoirs, located in boreal regions, is cold, regularly remixed and reoxygenated. A higher level of oxygen in the water means less methane is emitted. A large-scale scientific study, “Net Greenhouse Gas Emissions at Eastmain 1 Reservoir, Quebec, Canada”, carried out in collaboration with 80 experts from Université du Québec à Montréal, McGill University and Environnement Illimité Inc., confirmed that “CH4 [methane] emissions are very small and represent less than 1% of total emissions.”
Eric Duchemin, of the Institut des sciences de l’environnement at the Université du Québec à Montréal, is cited as disagreeing with Hydro-Québec’s position that greenhouse gas emissions taper off 10 years after flooding. Hydro-Québec’s analysis is shared by many credible organizations. For example, the International Panel on Climate Change arrives at the same conclusion in its Fourth Report. This report was co-signed by a dozen specialists, including Eric Duchemin. Apparently, Mr. Duchemin is contradicting himself.
While all electricity generation creates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, whether directly or indirectly, hydropower ranks as one of the lowest-emission generating options per kilowatthour produced. Emissions from reservoir generating stations in Québec are comparable to those produced by wind generation and represent about a quarter of those from photovoltaic solar facilities, due to the manufacturing process involved. Compared with one of Hydro-Québec’s reservoir generating stations, a gas-fired power plant produces about 40 times more GHG emissions and a coal-fired plant about 100 times more.
Hydropower Reservoirs: Living Habitats
References in this article to a “dead river flowing”, “river’s last moments”, “dried up river beds” and destruction of “the province’s last remaining rivers” may be sensational, but they are far from the truth. After the project is completed, the Romaine will continue to be a very rich ecosystem.
Québec is very fortunate in having a huge number of rivers—some 4,500—and only 74 have been harnessed for hydropower generation.
Forty years of extensive research on hydropower developments has demonstrated that in northern Québec, a hydroelectric generating station reservoir, far from being sterile and devoid of life, constitutes an ecosystem whose biological productivity compares favorably with that of a natural lake in the same area.
Hydro-Québec’s Commitment to the Best Energy Mix for its Customers
As for whether we can fully replace hydropower with alternative energy solutions and energy efficiency measures, we would respond that it’s not a question of choosing energy efficiency and other renewables over hydropower. The major environmental challenge facing North America is to replace coal to generate power and oil used in transportation. We will make more progress in meeting this challenge by continuing environmentally sound hydropower development.
Hydro remains an environmentally sound power source13/04/2011
Boreal hydroelectric reservoirs emit only low amounts of GHGs in comparison to thermal generating stations 7/06/2012
Launch of the Polytechnique Montréal and UQAM School of Management International LIfe Cycle Chair 18/04/2012