CONSIDERING that oil prices have doubled since July, Quebeckers
ought totake comfort from several facts:
- Hydro-Quebec, the provincial utility, gets 95 percent of its
power fromhydroelectric generation - a renewable resource.
- Quebec's 6.7 million residents pay one of the lowest electric
rates inthe developed world.
- Quebec is one of the world's most "electrified" societies,
relying onelectricity for 40 percent of its energy needs, including
transport. Bycomparison, the New England figure is near 18 percent.
- In a region that faces extreme winters, electric heat is used
in 71percent of all dwellings in and 90 percent of new homes.
- The Quebec territory east and south of James Bay has North
America'slargest untapped hydropower potential. If developed as
planned, it will supplyan amount equal to 25 percent of the
But some in Quebec are not celebrating. Their ranks include
economists andenvironmentalists, as well as the native Cree Indians
who inhabit the James Bayterritory's 135,000 square miles of black
Plans to further develop hydropower in the region have prompted
charges asdiverse as the sources: irreversible damage to a delicate
subarctic habitat,trampling Indians' land-rights and destruction of
their way of life,white-elephant projects.
"This project can only proceed because there's no public input.
It's assimple as that," says Helene Lajambe, an economist who is
director general ofthe Center for Energy Policy Analysis in
The rigid distrust harbored by antidevelopment forces is focused
onstate-owned Hydro-Quebec. An organization of unmatched influence
and presence inQuebec, the utility accounts for 5 percent of the
province's gross domesticproduct. In monetary terms, it is the
largest nonfinancial institution inCanada.
Physically, Hydro-Quebec's facilities occupy 1 percent of the
province. Thatcould double in 30 to 40 years. It directly employs
19,400 people, and says itindirectly sustains 60,000 more jobs.
Critics like Stephen Hazell, executive director of the Canadian
ArcticResources Committee in Ottawa, refers to the utility as a
"bureaucracy run wild... with no checks or counterchecks.
Hydro-Quebec is in the business of buildingdams at all costs."
The utility's influence is rooted in history. In a province where
theEnglish-speaking minority once dominated white collar employment,
Hydro-Quebecwas the first company to put Francophones in high-paying
"At some point it became a vehicle for Quebec nationalism," says
Ms.Lajambe "It took the people of Quebec a long time to realize the
harm beingdone by their favorite company because it was sacred to
Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa has used cheap electricity
successfully toattract power-guzzling industries like aluminum
smelters, even though Quebec hasno bauxite, the ore from which
aluminum is made. …