Most egregious in the ITC proceeding are the government and industry claims that Canadian hydropower is clean, low carbon, renewable energy that will help the climate. These claims fly in the face of the most basic science, even that of Hydro-Quebec itself, and are fraudulent.
Canadian hydropower industry has no credible data to support claims that it produces electricity that is “zero emissions” or “low carbon.” For NAMRA’s position, see July 15, 2020 Brief, pages 8-15; and August 7, 2020 brief, page 9-13 and McCallum Exhibit 2: January 24, 2019, The Tyee: Andrew Nikiforuk Megadams Not Clean or Green, Says Expert.
Testimony, briefs, and statements show that Canadian hydropower production causes the permanent and ongoing destruction of thousands of square miles of forests, river systems and ancestral homelands of Indigenous people, poisons the environment with methylmercury and degrades the land to the point where it cannot support human habitation and basic necessities like clean drinking water. It destroys carbon-sequestering forests, taiga and rivers and impairs the ability of oceans to sequester carbon.
NAMRA’s ITC submittals show that the Canadian hydropower industry has no data to show the ongoing direct emissions from the hundreds of hydroelectric generating stations exporting electricity to the U.S. The industry relies on marketing materials using cherry-picked numbers contradicted by science including a study on Hydro-Quebec’s own Eastmain reservoir. A scientific review of available data by Dr. Bradford Hager, Professor of Earth Sciences Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Massachusetts Institute of Technology, compares hydroelectricity to fossil fuels:
A growing number of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature address the carbon footprint of hydro reservoirs worldwide. By studying these papers and the on-line supplementary materials accompanying them, I have assembled sufficient information to determine the greenhouse gas emissions of 18 of HQ’s major reservoirs – those that generate in excess of 1 TWh/yr of electricity each. There is a tremendous range in HQ emissions – from 5 g CO2/kWh (half that produced by wind)..about half of HQ generation is comparable in emissions to natural gas.
Without one shred of data, the Canadian hydropower industry-company officials and their politicians — and Massachusetts DOER Commissioner repeatedly – hundreds of times in the ITC proceeding- called this electricity “clean” and “renewable.” This is a falsehood.
Hydro-Quebec’s Mr. Sutherland admitted that hydroelectricity is a “very site-specific resource in terms of its emissions” and “it’s really important to go to the actual emissions of the place that you’re looking at” (see, Hearing Transcript page 103-104 — but he never produced the information.
“Childlike claim” that because precipitation keeps falling, hydropower is renewable
The Canadian hydropower industry also tried to convince the ITC that hydropower is “renewable” because precipitation keeps falling from the sky. This childlike myopic view ignores the fact that the water is stored in artificial reservoirs and rivers systems are manipulated to the point of irreversible destruction. The course of some of Canada’s major river systems have been reversed in order to divert water for hydroelectricity production. The Canadian government ignores the grade-school principle that land river systems have ecosystems and once destroyed they cannot be renewed. Canadian hydroelectricity also does not meet the legal definition of “renewable energy” under state law in the U.S.
Claims that Canadian hydroelectricity is “renewable” based on the CUSMA trade agreement is totally bogus!
The Canadian Electric Association’s witness Ambassador Giffen tried to claim “renewable energy” status for Canadian hydroelectricity based on a November 2018 letter from the Canada United States Mexico Agreement (CUMSA) trade agreement. The letter says “hydro” is “renewable energy” because it is “energy derived from natural processes that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. They are virtually inexhaustible.” See, Transcript page 9 As plain facts show, hydroelectricity production consumes land and water systems on an ongoing basis. These are never replenished and are gone forever.
Contrary to the Canadian government’s indefensible claim that hydropower is renewable based on the definition in the 2018 trade side letter, the facts show lands and river the “natural processes” used to generate hydroelectricity – river systems – are not “replenished” in any way. The river systems are not “inexhaustible” — there is, in reality, a limit to the quantity of land and river systems available for exploitation — even in Canada. The damage is ongoing and permanent, not a “one time event” as the industry tries to claim.
Canadian officials also tried to rely on “the international protocols, including the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change, and the Environmental Protection Agency actually in the U.S. [which] stipulates that after 10 years, the reservoir is considered to have a zero-emission profile. So it’s basically the same thing as a natural water body.” See, July 29, 2020 hearing transcript, page 101. This is not what Hydro-Quebec’s study of the Eastmain reservoir says. And the IPPC protocols have a well known carbon accounting loophole. This is another indefensible claim by the Canadian government on behalf of its hydropower monopolies.
Who is promoting this dirty energy
Hydropower development is carried out by Canadian monopolies – such as Nalcor Energy and Hydro-Quebec in the eastern provinces, in central Canada by Manitoba Hydro, and B.C. Hydro in British Columbia, the most westernmost province. There are three new megadams and dozens planned (see part 4 below). In Manitoba, only half of Manitoba Hydro’s dams are built and in Labrador Nalcor is planning the Gull Island dam, likely to export to the U.S. via Hydro-Quebec.