When discussing the greenhouse gas impact of megadams such as Muskrat Falls, one area that is often overlooked is the amounts of forests, peatlands, and other carbon-sequestering ecosystems that must be flooded and/or cleared to create the reservoirs necessary to generate this power. Canada’s boreal forests and peatlands sequester massive amounts of carbon dioxide, in fact, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council, each year, clearcutting across the boreal forest releases more than 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In addition to the massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane released from the creation of reservoirs, pristine wildlife habitat and culturally important lands for Indigenous communities are often destroyed. Muskrat Falls, for example, has marked a sacred place for the Innu and their ancestors for thousands of years and it was flooded without the tribe’s free, prior or informed consent.
Hydro-Quebec’s five largest reservoirs alone have flooded over 7,545 square miles of forests, bogs, rivers, and other ecosystems across the province. The crown corporations currently owns 27 reservoirs.
As electricity demand from the United States increases, more dams and transmission corridors will likely have to be constructed. This will result in greater amounts of deforestation and flooding across precious environments that are disappearing at a disturbing rate. This will only serve to further increase greenhouse gas emissions, destroy important wildlife habitat and further displace front-line communities.
Hydropower has no place in the future of clean electricity generation and should not be advertised as such. Instead, the focus must turn to implementing local clean electricity production and reducing overall electricity demand.