Canadian and U.S. conservation groups today announced that they will jointly commission studies to address outstanding questions about the impacts of hydropower development within Quebec's new northern boreal forest management plan. The Conservation Law Foundation, Équiterre, the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Pew Environment Group have agreed to assess various options related to Quebec energy as a part of the energy mix in the Northeast United States.
In March 2009, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced the Plan Nord, one of the largest land-use planning processes in history. The planning area covers a total of 296 million acres of the northern boreal, about twice the size of France, and calls for the protection of half of the area from all industrial activity, and application of sustainable development standards in the other half.
Mr. Charest has pledged to take Quebec's energy generation in a different direction from the 1990s, when Hydro-Quebec's proposals spurred controversy over social impacts and habitat destruction. As a result, the state of New York and other recipients cancelled $17 billion in power contracts. Quebec's new plans for power production are tied to its far-reaching pledge to protect the boreal. It intends to market hydropower to northeastern U.S. customers as a carbon friendly option, both because boreal forest conservation will assure continued storage of vast amounts of carbon, and because the power provided will generate far less carbon than most current energy sources in the northeastern United States.
“Quebec has pledged to make a globally important contribution to forest protection,” said Mathew Jacobson, manager of the Pew Environment Group's International Boreal Conservation Campaign. “These studies will help identify the most environmentally benign approach to Quebec's plans for power generation and help to create a vision for sustainable development within a healthy ecosystem.”
“The Quebec government wants the province to become part of the energy solution for the Northeast of the continent. For Équiterre, it is important to look into all aspects of this vision, making sure it is both feasible and can be sustainably implemented to the benefit of all stakeholders,” said Sidney Ribaux of Équiterre.
“These studies are not about how to increase hydro production by damming even more of Quebec's great rivers,” said Suzann Method, Quebec director for the Canadian Boreal Initiative. “They are meant to reveal opportunities for Quebec's energy exports to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, as well as impacts on aboriginal communities and biodiversity.”
“Decisions about imports of power from Quebec to New England must be based on accurate information,” said Sandra Levine, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “We must honestly address environmental impacts. Creating one environmental disaster to avoid another is not an option.”
The conservation groups' research will look at the social and environmental impacts of Quebec's proposed hydropower plans. Topics to be explored include comparing the greenhouse gas emissions of hydropower to fossil fuel energy production; alternative options for Quebec clean energy exports; a comparison of hydroelectricity to emerging green generation and efficiency alternatives; opportunities to work in partnership with and with respect for the rights of first nations and other aboriginal communities; opportunities to limit impacts on fish and wildlife; opportunities to limit impacts of transmission lines and facilities and options to ensure that hydro generated electricity would replace fossil fuel generated energy and contribute to the development of a renewable energy infrastructure in the northeastern United States.
The groups will also work to ensure that the concerns and interests of affected communities in both regions are heard regarding these projects.