Blocked-river hydro contributes to climate change

To the Editor:

In an Aug. 20 letter, Gary Sutherland of Hydro Quebec falsely asserted that electricity from the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) would be “safe, clean, and renewable” and thus “exactly what New York needs” [“Québec hydropower is one of the lowest greenhouse gas emitting options for generating electricity,” The Altamont Enterprise, Letters to the Editor, Aug. 20, 2020].

He made many other assertions not supported by history and facts.

He suggested that my opposing CHPE [“CHPE electricity would not be safe, clean, or renewable,” The Altamont Enterprise, Letters to the Editor, Aug. 20, 2020] amounts to my “stick[ing] with the status quo, which is burning dirty fossil fuels.” 

Nonsense. We have many ways of conserving and generating electricity other than blocked-river hydroelectricity and fossil fuels. These include conservation, energy efficiency, solar and wind, all of which provide far more in-state jobs than CHPE.

Quebec is a Canadian province (state) bordering New York but more than 10 times larger. Hydro Quebec is a provincially owned and subsidized electric utility. Quebec has many large rivers and had many others that HQ has literally destroyed.

Presently, Hydro Quebec is constructing a fourth dam on the obliterated Romaine River that drains into the St. Lawrence River. CHPE is a proposed 333-mile transmission corridor (power line) through eastern New York State from the Canadian border to New York City.

Canadian hydropower does not meet the existing definition of “renewable energy” that exists in the New York State government’s renewable portfolio standards, also known as the “Clean Energy Standard.”

In recent decades, when Hydro Quebec constructs hydroelectricity stations, dams and dikes are built, blocking river flows. Enormous “reservoirs” in the former river valleys are flooded behind the dams inside the dikes.

Rivers, forests, and biodiversity destroyed in the drowned river valleys are not renewable. Once destroyed, these spectacular ecosystems cannot be restored. River ecology, water quality, and normal river flows are altered beyond repair.

Dams trap sediment and nutrients that formerly flowed nonstop into the ocean, damaging freshwater and saltwater fisheries. Hydro Quebec commits enormous and unforgivable crimes against nature and hopes to continue doing so while green-washing it as good for the planet. It is insane to continue destroying rivers.

Unlike other hydroelectricity in which rivers are not blocked, nor “reservoirs” created, blocked-river hydro contributes to climate change and global warming. Flooded forests can no longer remove carbon from the atmosphere. Rotting vegetation discharges carbon into the water and air. Altering seasonal river discharges may be warming northern ocean waters.

We need real solutions to climate change.

Hydro Quebec provides no data quantifying the climate change impacts of the “reservoirs” on the rivers it has wrecked. Hydro Quebec has never proved that “Quebec hydropower [and particularly the blocked-river type] is one of the lowest greenhouse gas emitting options for generating electricity that we have,” as Mr. Sutherland asserted; nor has Hydro Quebec ever proved that Hydro Quebec wrecked-river electricity has “50 times less than emissions that come from burning natural gas.”

No one publishes electricity production data for each hydro power station in Quebec; thus there is no way to know how much electricity is generated at each station or the emissions per kilowatt generated.

As for Hydro Quebec dammed-river-generated electricity being “safe” and “clean,” there is vast evidence to the contrary. Equally false is Mr. Sutherland’s statement that Hydro Quebec “hydro projects only move forward when agreements have been signed with local communities, including Indigenous communities.”

In an Aug. 27 letter to the United States Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, the Quebec-based Canadian Innu First Nation of Pessamit, the Atkamekw First Nation of Wemotaci, and the Anishnabek First Nation of Pikogan, wrote that “36% of the total hydroelectric power installed by Hydro-Quebec comes from Innu, Atkamekw, and Anishnabek traditional territories, protected by ancestral and treaty rights that have never been respected. In total, 33 production structures, 130 dams and dikes, 10,400 square kilometers of reservoirs, and tens of thousands of kilometers of transmission, distribution, and road lines have been illegally installed on our lands and waters.”

They added Hydro Quebec “facilities have eliminated critical wildlife habitat, undermining our capacity to find food from our lands and waters. Our traditional fishing, hunting, and trapping grounds have been lost, making our communities reliant instead on social welfare payments. Our First Nations have shouldered the impacts of Hydro-Quebec’s industrialization of our territories; development which has benefitted the quality of life of other Quebec citizens but left our communities’ well-being indicators comparable to those of third-world countries.”

CHPE has virtually no redeeming features.

Large, spectacular rivers and river valleys are destroyed in Canada to provide electricity for export to the U.S.; water, animals, and people poisoned; only a couple of dozen permanent jobs created in New York State; hundreds of millions of dollars per year of New York wealth exported to Canada; climate impacts; and the lives of Native peoples disrupted and ruined.

Installation of CHPE would certainly lead to additional CHPE proposals with more of the same negative impacts. Allowing CHPE would perpetuate the myth that all hydroelectric is beneficial, delay a serious and long-overdue reckoning with surging climate change and species extinctions, and tie New York residents into ongoing ecocide north of our border.

Tom Ellis



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