US & Canadian officials discuss hydropower at DC forum

On February 25th, the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Canada Institute held an afternoon discussion on energy entitled “Power Partnerships: How Canada-U.S. Hydroelectric Partnerships Reinforce America’s Clean Energy Economy.”  The first panel was led by Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, and Greg Selinger, the Premier of the Province of Manitoba.  Both leaders discussed the importance of reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the steps that Canada has taken in that regard, including implementation of light emission vehicle (LEV) standards and aligning their heavy duty truck emission regulations with the United States.  Ambassador Doer raised the question as to why hydroelectric power is generally not considered a renewable energy resource in the United States.  He indicated some success in terms of hydro being declared renewable with some states, singling out the state of Vermont, but expressed concern that such a definition has not occurred in much of the U.S.  He stated that hydro power should be part of the solution in terms of furthering the development of non-emitting energy sources in looking to reduce GHGs in North America.


Premier Selinger echoed the statement of Ambassador Doer.  Premier Selinger stated that Canadian hydro is an essential component to a North America clean energy strategy, and is an important contributor to the power baseload of the United States.  He noted that 40 percent of Manitoba’s hydroelectricity output goes to the U.S. with 11 percent going to Minnesota alone.  He emphasized that hydro is a contributor to America’s base power, which gives the U.S. the ability to develop other renewable sources and works to keep energy prices lower in the U.S.


The Ambassador was asked about tar sands oil and its place in a “complimentary energy strategy” to which he replied that while tar sands have GHGs, they are less than they have been in the past.  He stated that the development of tar sands would help make the U.S. less-dependent on Middle Eastern oil, as well as Venezuelan oil which he stated emitted higher levels of GHG pollutants.  He also said that the Keystone XL pipeline would transport a portion of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil field.


A second panel of speakers included Stephen Molodetz, of Connecticut-based New England Council member H.Q. Energy Services or as it is known, HQUS.  Mr. Molodetz stated that Quebec is blessed with a tremendous hydropower resource that comprises about 98 percent of the 41,000 megawatts of output generated by the company and is thus a low GHG emitter.  In terms of energy supply, he stated that roughly one-third of the energy supplied to Vermont comes from Hydro Quebec, and that the company has approximately 175 terawatt hours of storage capacity in 25 reservoirs.  According to Mr. Molodetz the company mitigated approximately 53 million metric tons of GHGs between2008-2011 through its operations.  He mentioned that the company is engaged in two high-voltage transmission projects, including one 1,200 megawatt project slated for New Hampshire and known as Northern Pass which is being undertaken in conjunction with another New England Council member, Northeast Utilities.  Mr. Molodetz said completion of this and one other project in the northeast will help deliver more power to U.S. markets, increase the fuel diversity of the region, and help lower GHGs.


Mr. Molodetz reiterated the concern that Ambassador Doer had mentioned regarding the fact that hydro is not considered as renewable in the northeast (except Vermont) and stated his belief that more hydro power from Quebec would help with meeting the region’s imposed renewable portfolio standards.   He further stated that the current gas pipeline system in New England was built at a time when the current extensive usage of gas was not anticipated and so gas reliability may be an issue in the future.  Still, market conditions such as low natural gas prices and an inability to be considered a renewable fuel at the federal level and in many states hinder the ability of hydro to grow according to Mr. Molodetz.  He further cautioned that policy makers should avoid an “either/or” mentality in determining which “green” energy source to use, allow science to decide which technology or location should be utilized, avoid using incentive programs to achieve multiple goals (such as creating clean energy and multiple jobs), and include the costs of transmitting energy to market in determining the economy of an energy source.  Mr. Molodetz concluded by saying that even with the challenges HQUS faces, they see promising developments in moving hydropower forward at both the state and the federal level and that the energy relationship between Canada and the United States is one that is valued and should be nurtured.

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