Canadian hydropower is dirty energy & a social injustice



Facebook Event:

SEPT. 9, 2019 NOON Saint John, New Brunswick

Saint John Trade & Convention Centre, One Market Square, Saint John, New Brunswick E2L 4Z6, Canada for more info email:


Indigenous Land and Water Defenders

Marjorie Flowers, Inuit of Nunatsiavut (Rigolet and Happy Valley-Goose Bay) arrested and jailed for protesting Muskrat Falls megadam.

Eldred Davis, Inuit Elder of NunatuKavut, arrested and jailed, most recently for breaking an injunction to take part in a ceremony on the Muskrat Falls construction site

Rita Monias, Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Manitoba, Member of Wa Ni Ska Tan, longtime advocate for communities impacted by megadams

Noretta Miswaggon, Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Executive Council Manitoba


Roberta Benefiel, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador

Nick Mercer, community based energy planner working in southeast Labrador

Meg Sheehan, USA, attorney and coordinator of NAMRA

Saint John Trade & Convention Centre, One Market Square, Saint John, New Brunswick E2L 4Z6, Canada

Informational Picketing 8:30 a.m. Press Conference 3:30 p.m.

Again this year we will be taking our message to the Conference of Northeastern U.S. Governors & Eastern Canadian Premiers at their annual meeting where they talk about international trade and energy.

On August 16, 2019, we asked the Premiers and Governors for the opportunity to address the conference to bring to forward the voice of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities negatively impacted megadams. To date, they have refused this request. It is critical that we show up at the conference to raise our voices! Here is the letter.

Why: The Canadian hydropower industry wants double its exports to the Northeast U.S. and Northeast U.S. Governors are buying it!  The Canadian hydropower industry markets its energy as clean and green – but its not! Megadams  & their transmission corridors have direct and irreversible impacts on our rivers and forests and cause the cultural genocide of Indigenous communities.

Our elected officials need to hear the other side of the story about hydropower! Indigenous community members from hydro-impacted regions of Canada are coming to New Brunswick to bring their voices directly to our officials!

This event is supported by: Labrador Land Protectors, Wa Ni Ska Tan, United American Indians of New England, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, The Council of Canadians, Sierra Club, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, North American Megadam Resistance Alliance, Global Justice Ecology Project, Biofuelwatch, New Community Project, Say NO to NECEC  (Maine), Jones River Watershed Association, New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, 350 Maine, RESTORE: The North Woods, Toxics Action Center

In the words of Indigenous megadams resister Marjorie Flowers, a transmission corridor for Canadian hydropower”is not a green project…what you are buying in power coming down in to the United States is what I find equivalent to the blood diamonds in Africa.”

           For more information, contact us at or find us on Facebook!

Ottawa, Canada: June 9 and 10, 2019: Labrador Land Protectors and allies speak directly to International Coalition of Large Dams at their annual meeting on the negative impacts on Indigenous communities from hydropower dams in Canada. More at Events page on this site and our blog: Groups Protest at Annual Dam Conference in Ottawa

Romaine River, before being dammed by Hydro-Quebec in Canada.

The former Grandes Chutes on the Romaine River dammed by Hydro-Quebec. Photo: A. Lathem  
Grandes Chutes today, after Hydro-Quebec’s Romaine River project that includes four megadams.

NAMRA seeks to: 

  1. Debunk the myth that Canadian hydropower is “clean” and renewable energy, and
  2. Shut down markets for dirty Canadian hydropower by stopping transmission corridors to the U.S.


Overview of hydropower: This is the creation of electricity through the damming and then gradual release of water that runs through turbines. The classification of large or megadam scale simply relates to size of the project; generally, a  large scale facility has an energy capacity of over 30 megawatts. (Source: Sierra Club) Above that we consider it a megadam.  In North America, the Upper Churchill facility in Labrador, Canada on the Mista Shipu (or Grand or Churchill River) has the highest capacity in North America at 5,428 megawatts, and can expand to 9,252 with the proposed Lower Churchill project at Muskrat Falls.  (The Hoover Dam was originally 1,345 then upgraded in 1993 to 2080 MW. (Source: Grand Riverkeeper, Labrador)

Hydropower from the Upper Churchill megadam is used in Massachusetts and other New England states. (Hydro-Quebec has a long term contract with Nalcor Energy to buy the hydropower from the Upper Churchill dam. )

Large and megadam projects facilities have far-reaching and long term harmful impacts on human rights, the environment, and the economy.

Negative impacts of hydropower

Human Rights Violations: Damming rivers permanently disrupts the balance of ecosystems, displacing people and animals by destroying the environment they had depended on for thousands of years. Hydro-Quebec, a New England supplier of hydropower, resettled thousands of First Nation communities and devastated their traditional fishing and hunting grounds. The destruction of First Nation lands continues throughout Canada due to megadam construction and operation. In Labrador, where Hydro-Quebec gets power from the Upper Churchill, with plans to dam the Lower Churchill at Muskrat Falls, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous allies have petitioned the United Nations on the grounds that the Muskrat Falls dam has gone ahead without the “free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous affected.”  

This is the equivalent of “the blood diamonds of Africa” as described by Marjorie Flowers on April 27, 2019 in speaking about the imports of hydropower from Canada to the U.S.

Flowers, an Inuit woman from Labrador, arrested and jailed for 10 days in a maximum security prison for protesting the Muskrat Falls megadam.

Members of the Inuit, Metis, Innu, and Euro-Canadian communities have been protesting the Muskrat Falls megaproject for many years. Photo: Briarpatch Magazine.

David Abel. “In Québec, it’s power versus a people on hydroelectricity,” Boston Globe, Jan. 23, 2018.

Methylmercury Poisoning: Mercury is naturally present in soil and vegetation; when flooded it is converted to toxic methylmercury by bacteria in the water column, and bioaccumulates through the food chain. It can persist in some species for 30-50 years– requiring communities to abandon the wild foods they have relied upon for millennia, or risk mercury poisoning.

In 2016, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering published a peer-reviewed study, Future Impacts of Hydroelectric Power Development on Methylmercury Exposures of Canadian Indigenous Communities.

According to the study,

“Results show a projected 10-fold increase in riverine MeHg [bioaccumulative neurotoxin methylmercury] levels and a 2.6-fold increase in estuarine surface waters. MeHg concentrations in locally caught species increase 1.3 to 10-fold depending on time spent foraging in different environments. Mean Inuit MeHg exposure is forecasted to double following flooding and over half of the women of childbearing age and young children in the most northern community are projected to exceed the U.S. EPA’s reference dose. Equal or greater aqueous MeHg concentrations relative to Muskrat Falls are forecasted for 11 sites across Canada, suggesting the need for mitigation measures prior to flooding [of land to create dam reservoirs.]

Climate Disaster.  “Hydropower is dirty energy, and should be treated like fossil fuels.” The False Promise of Hydropower,

“Construction of hydroelectric dams around the world is surging dramatically, guided by the false premise they produce clean energy, even as study after study refutes this claim.”  Id.

Comparisons of hydropower emissions to those of natural gas facilities do not take into account the emissions from the production of cement and steel, and from the use of earth-moving machinery, in dam construction. More importantly, they do not factor in the changes in land use and the loss of forests. The extensive deforestation associated with dam construction –  clearing reservoir areas,  providing timber companies access to previously inaccessible forests, and  clearing 800-mile long swaths of forest for transmission corridors  – is never factored into estimates of the climate impacts of dams.

Global Forest Watch has identified that “over 80 percent of proposed and 90 percent of potential hydropower developments in Canada would occur in or within 5 kilometers of presently intact forest landscapes.” These intact forest landscapes serve a vital role in climate stability. North America’s boreal forest holds as much carbon as emissions from 26 years of burning fossil fuels at today’s global rate. Canada’s 1.4 billion acres of forest, containing the majority of the world’s peatland, must be protected, scientists warn, to avoid this dangerous release of greenhouse gasses.

Free flowing rivers and floodplains are needed for climate resilience. Wild rivers, natural floodplains and wetlands, as well as native boreal forests,  are needed for climate resilience. Healthy wetlands and floodplains mitigate against flooding and store water, as do forests. Nutrients flowing from wild rivers help the oceans to absorb carbon. One new study shows that habitat restoration of rivers, forests and wetlands could help us to keep warming below 2 degrees. In other words, an already degraded biosphere cannot sustain additional assaults, especially in a time of climate disruption.

Forests cleared to create reservoirs for Hydro Quebec’s Romaine Project. Photo: A. Lathem

Methane Emissions. When hydropower facilities are created and lands flooded, trees and soils are disturbed. Natural processes transform those materials into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Life-cycle emissions of some large scale hydropower facilities can be over 0.5 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. Natural gas burning for comparison has life cycle emissions averaging between 0.6 and 2 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour.  

Recent science reveals startling evidence about the climate impacts of hydropower:

“And we found that the estimates of methane emissions per area of reservoir are about 25 percent higher than previously thought, which we think is significant given the global boom in dam construction, which is currently underway.”

Deemer et. al., BioScience, 2016, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Reservoir Water Surfaces: A New Global Synthesis.  About 79 percent of greenhouse gas equivalents from reservoirs are methane, the others are CO2 and nitrous oxide.

Despite the well-established science documenting emissions from hydropower, its greenhouse gases escape scrutiny because they are not included in the U. N. or state greenhouse gas accounting systems. The U.S. Department of Energy reinforces the myth of clean hydropower.

Environment and Habitat: The creation of hydropower comes with the necessary destruction of large ecosystems. Damming rivers permanently disrupts the balance of ecosystems, displacing people and animals by destroying the environment they had depended on for thousands of years.

Coastal Erosion and Sediment Depletion: Rivers and streams typically carry sediments downstream, ultimately depositing them on ocean and lake shores. Dams and reservoirs built along rivers are an interruption to this flow, trapping huge amounts of river sediment–in the case of larger dams, up to 100% of it. Subsequently, the sediment is unable to be deposited along riverbeds and shorelines, leading to massive amounts of coastal erosion. For instance on the Sagar islands, a dam led to coastal erosion occurring seven times quicker than it did before the dam was built. Trapping sediments also deprives the seas of carbon-sequestering diatoms.

Animals: Fish can get drawn into turbines, have increased predation due to the altered habitats, and have been shown to suffer from stress and injuries passing through hydroelectric dams. Reservoirs cultivate excess algae and weeds, crowding out other species. Reservoirs also are lower in dissolved oxygen, which can lead to some parts of the water being unlivable. The impact on animals has been demonstrated in Maine, as ever since the removal of the Great Works Dam in 2012 and the Veazie Dam in 2013 the number of salmon and other fish tripled from the previous year with the dam. This also was a 45 fold increase from the 2012 numbers.  Hydro-Quebec’s megaprojects on James Bay are linked to declines in eider ducks.  Nalcor’s Labrador projects are linked to declines in the Red Wine and other caribou herds. 

Megadams and Corporate Profits.  Hydro-Quebec is in the dam building business and has been since the 1940s.  Without dams, it goes out of business.  It is desperate to find new markets for its hydropower and to keep building new dams. Hydro-Quebec is not interested in “sustainable” energy or the enviroment or local communities.  It is about the corporate economics and business for their contractors — such as SNC Lavilin, cement manufacturers, multinational engineering firms, and so forth.  In order to grow profits, Hydro-Quebec needs more markets – and has targeted the U.S. with a greenwashing campaign, partnering with multi-national corporations to promote new and bigger transmission corridors for markets in Boston, New York and other metropolitan areas.

The CEO of Hydro-Quebec was blunt when he said the future of his company depends on the U.S. importing Canadian hydropower:

Without exports, our profits are in trouble

Hydro Quebec CEO, Financial Post,  

Undercuts local renewable energy economy.  The planned transmission corridors through the northeast are technologically incompatible with regional projects.

“Yes, we need transmission upgrades to build a clean energy economy, but the costs for projects to interconnect with this type of line are prohibitive… we are locking ourselves into 20-year contracts with Hydro Quebec, and therefore exporting our energy dollars out of the region for 20 years. This same electricity could be supplied by regional clean generation, keeping those energy dollars invested locally, bringing jobs and regional economic growth.”

Sierra Club Massachusetts, Executive Director, Quebec hydro isn’t a good fit for Mass., CommonWealth Magazine, Aug. 2018. 

Destructive transmission corridors:  Hydro-Quebec’s desperate need for profits and the willingness of some U.S. politicians to greenwash dirty hydropower has resulted in various schemes to build transmission corridors.  These corridors are proposed to cut through pristine wilderness areas and drill under scenic and iconic rivers. 

The corridors will bring hydropower from remote areas of Canada over a thousand miles away to markets like New York City and Boston.  Communities along the corridor get little in return — and recognize this.

In July 2019, after over 8 years of trying to win approval, Eversource withdrew its application for the Northern Pass corridor through New Hampshire. Eversource pitched the project as a “shareholder-funded way to sell 1,090 megawatts of hydropower from HydroQuebec into the New England grid…. Eversource repeatedly predicted that Northern Pass would be built by 2020.” It spent $318 million trying to get the controversial project approved.

Information and references can be found on individual topic pages. (Human Rights, Climate, Environmental Impacts, etc.)

Hydro-Quebec power transmission corridor.  Sept Isle, Quebec. Photo: A. Lathem

The key projects: 

Central Maine Power/Avangrid/Iberdrola, 145 miles Maine to Massachusetts.  A controversial project cutting a swarth through more than 50 miles of the Maine North Woods, the largest undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi River.  The transmission corridor will cross the Appalachian Trail three times and cross the the Kennebec River Gorge, the region’s crown  –to bring 1,200 MW of hydropower from remote areas in Canada over 1,000 miles to Boston.   

WITHDRAWN July, 2019 Northern Pass/Eversource  – 192 miles through New Hampshire including through the White Mt. National Forest

New England Clean Power Link/ TDI New England – 145 miles through Vermont

Vermont Green Line/National Grid – 60 miles through Vermont

Champlain Hudson Power Express a project of Blackstone/TDI- I 330 miles to NYC, including under Hudson River.

Empire State Connector – 265 miles to NYC

Atlantic Link (MA)/Emera – 375 mi. subsea cable to Plymouth, Massachusetts – ON HOLD

Calling megadam hydropower “clean and green” and importing it to meet “renewable energy” mandates in the U.S. is an environmental and social injustice.  In the U.S., megadams on the scale of what is being built in Canada would never be allowed due to the unacceptable human, environmental and social costs.

Using Canadian hydropower makes consumers complicit in the cultural and environmental genocide of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and the planet’s ecosystems.  

As stated by leading scientists from Michigan State University in a peer-reviewed journal: “Large dams seem to be everything that one should not try to build if one cares about sustainability. To move toward sustainability, future hydropower development needs to give more attention to how climate change may affect hydropower production and make greater efforts to reduce the environmental and social costs borne by people near the dams. In addition, those harmed by the dams need to be adequately compensated, the number of people that must be resettled should be reduced, and most importantly, innovative technologies that reduce all of these negative outcomes should be developed, especially instream turbines and other forms of renewable energy. 

Hydropower has been the leading source of so-called “renewable energy across the world, accounting for up to 71% of this supply as of 2016. This capacity was built up in North America and Europe between 1920 and 1970 when thousands of dams were built. Big dams stopped being built in developed nations, because the best sites for dams were already developed and environmental and social concerns made the costs unacceptable. Nowadays, more dams are being removed in North America and Europe than are being built. The hydropower industry moved to building dams in the developing world and since the 1970s,…”

Read more:

The free-flowing Romaine River, still pristine in 2008. Indigenous peoples depended upon the river for millennia, with no negative impacts.

Solutions  There is an alternative to a continuing reliance on fossil fuels, on the one hand, and a reliance on large hydro, or industrial wind farms covering our mountain ridges, on the other – and that is to use less energy. That is the most shovel ready alternative, the least costly solution, and the one that will have the most benefit for local economies.

Award-winning documentary about Indigenous communities living in James Bay, Canada and Hydro-Quebec’s destruction of habitat for eider ducks by alteration of river flow in to the Bay. The community’s economy relies on the ducks for their down for personal use and sale.

Additional Sources:

Bronsom W. Giscom “Natural climate solutions,” PNAS, September 5, 2017,

Leah Burrows, “Human Health Risks from Hydroelectric Projects,” Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Nov. 9. 2016.

“Canada Largest Contributor To Deforestation Worldwide: Study,” The Huffington Post Canada.

Global Forest Watch. Hydropower Developments in Canada: Number, Size and Jurisdictional and Ecological Distribution.

Kate Horner. “Hydropower is not the answer for climate resilience,”

“Hydroelectric dams emit a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, study finds.” The Guardian. Nov. 14, 2016.

Hydro Quebec Strategic Plan.

McKinsey Institute. “Fueling sustainable development: The energy productivity solution,” Oct. 2008,

Andrew Nikiforuk, “Megadams Not Clean or Green, Says Expert,” The Tyee. Jan. 24, 2018.

David Roland-Holst. “Energy Efficiency, Innovation, and Job Creation in California,”

“The Power of Negawatts: Efficiency: The Greenest Energy Source.”

Alexis Lathem. “Rage On, Sweet Romaine.” Alternatives Journal, Jan.

Ossie Michelin. “The Mighty Fight for Muskrat Falls,” Briarpatch. May 1, 1017.