Romaine River Hydroelectric Project

by Robert Desautels

It seems to me that make-work projects are becoming more common throughout the province of Quebec. Projects that promise economic ‘spin offs’ claim to provide a sustainable source of employment, are projects that seem to be running around in circles.

The Romaine river hydroelectric project (RRHP) is an example of a make-work program. Touted as the “largest construction project in Canada”(CP, 2009), the Romaine hydroelectric project spans the river 53 kilometers from the mouth of the river to the 192 kilometer marker. Within this distance, 4 hydroelectric dams are to be built and the designated area for the 4 reservoirs are estimated to be 279 km2(ACEE,2).

Romaine River

EIA reports conducted for the RRHP were thorough. Much thought and consideration was put into the project. Mitigation measures were put into place for fishery habitats, the Innus would be compensated justly, and in addition job training would be enforced to develop a better skill set.(ACEE, 36) Wetland loss will be mitigated by re-buffering riparian zones. Merchantable timber will be cleared, an added ‘spin-off’, which will significantly reduce the amount of wood debris found in reservoirs(ACEE, 137).

The crux of my argument is that while proper mitigation measures appear to be in place and that hydroelectric energy is renewable, building hydroelectric dams isn’t necessary, is inefficient and it’s economically unviable.

It costs 10₵ Kw/h (Boisclair 1:05:15) to export hydroelectric energy and the main importer of that energy is the northeast U.S. Vermont would pay a rate of 5-6¢ Kw/h 01:09:00 and the state of New York has categorically refused (Boisclair 1:07:45) to import hydroelectric energy as part of their new sustainable energy policies. Since Quebec already produces a surplus equivalent to the power that 3 RRHP’s (Boisclair 1:07:00) would produce, building another hydroelectric dam complex would be economically redundant.

The energy that is put into the construction and realization of the RRHP can be put into better mediums. Wind power would cost 6.5₵ to produce and it would take up 4 to 9 km2  00:37:09 in space and it would provide the same energy output as those 4 hydroelectric dams. The production biomass fuel is estimated to create 2400 permanent jobs 00:28:00, whereas the RRHP will create the same amount of employment but will be slashed by a third (Emond, 2) once the dams are built.

In the case of RRHP, EIA serves as window-dressing. The extensive reports done on mitigation and compensation serves as a smokescreen to the harmful effects on the environment that hydroelectric dams cause. While it can be argued that hydroelectric power is an eco-friendlier energy source than oil and coal, I feel that this argument overshadows the better alternatives of energy such as wind, geothermal and solar energy sources. Carefully constructed EIA reports can used as a tool to propagate the benefits of hydroelectric power by distracting us from better alternatives. I think that  the construction of the RRHP is downright silly. A sentiment that is also echoed by this handsome devil:

Charest launches construction of Romaine River Hydro-Project. The Canadian Press May 2009.

Chercher le Courant” 2010 by Nicolas Boisclair and Alexis de Gheldere.

Germain, M. (2009). Romaine River Hydroelectric. Quebec City, Ottawa: Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Emond, L 2010, Environmental Impact Assessment Studies at Hydro-Québec: A Major Effort to Harmonize Communities’ Energy, Economic and Social Development, IAIA10 Conference Proceedings.

Romaine River Hydroelectric Project

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