Sierra Club fires back on Quebec hydro

Stored energy is neither green nor clean

THE ASSERTIONS IN THE RECENT ARTICLEHydro-Québec, Central Maine Power respond to critics” by John Carroll and Lynne St-Laurent are not correct. Of course, one must consider the source of the statements. New England Clean Energy Connect project proponents put a nice spin on their joint project, but they respond as public relations employees rather than with scientific facts.  The project will only truly benefit the shareholders and administration of Central Maine Power, its parent company Iberdrola, and Hydro-Quebec.

The Sierra Club is one organization with 63 chapters throughout North America that speaks with one voice.  The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100% renewable energy campaign is an overarching national policy which all chapters are working towards. We are opposed to Hydro-Quebec power, and stand opposed to a high-voltage transmission line ruining the landscape of Maine’s unique environment. We absolutely do not “stand with the fossil fuel industry,” as the authors stated. Period.

Hydro-Québec and Central Maine Power assert that their project will result in 47 percent of the energy consumed by Massachusetts being “clean” and reliable energy. Hydro-Quebec’s “stored energy,” as reservoirs, is neither green nor clean.

The damage to Maine’s environment for Massachusetts to wallow in fake clean power from Quebec is hug. The transmission line crosses 115 streams, 126 wetland,s and numerous lakes and ponds while dangling towering power lines over one of our most iconic forested waterways. Central Maine Power’s transmission line rights of way will be clear-cut and “maintained” with periodic spraying of a chemical soup of herbicides putting local streams in harms way. Bisecting forests with this 54-mile corridor will fracture habitat throughout the region, decreasing biodiversity that interconnects and makes our world habitable. The transmission line is definitely neither clean nor green.

Assertions about the cleanliness of hydro-power are in fact wrong. Hydro-Québec suggests the company will provide consumer value and reliability. When Canada needs the power, will it choose to send electricity to Massachusetts or will it satisfy its own residents? Furthermore, ratepayers will foot the bill for the infrastructure. The mega-dams currently under construction in Quebec and Labrador, Hydro-Quebec’s $8 billion La Romaine project and Nalcor Energy’s $13 billion Muskrat Falls, are both scandalously over budget. Muskrat Falls may well bankrupt the province of Newfoundland and, at 65 cents a kilowatt hour, be the most expensive electricity in the world. What will they actually charge Massachusetts ratepayers? These costs belie the “promise of economically sustainable power.”

Also communities that have relied on wild foods from these rivers for millennia will no longer be able to eat the fish. The Romaine River in Canada was, until construction began in 2009, one of the longest, most pristine wild rivers in Quebec and one of the last free-flowing Atlantic salmon rivers in the world. What should have been designated a World Heritage site, the Romaine River is being turned into a series of stagnant reservoirs for the purpose of supplying electricity to the insatiable energy market in the United States. New dams will be built as long as there is a market in the US – provided there is a way to transmit that power.

Hydropower is not clean energy. Reservoirs emit methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, at a high rate over as long as 20 years, a fact not examined in the reports sited in the Hydro-Quebec/Central Maine Power article. At the same time, large, valuable carbon sinks are lost as boreal forests are destroyed to create large reservoirs and transmission corridors. And, while Hydro-Quebec states that their carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions are among the lowest, they do not take into account the impact from raising and lowering water levels in reservoirs as well as the turbulence inherent in dams that further expands releases of greenhouse gas emissions.

Secondly, rotting vegetation under reservoirs triggers a chemical transformation of naturally occurring mercury from its harmless form into methylmercury, a central nervous system toxin that bioaccumulates through the food chain. Contamination can persist for 30 to 55 years – requiring communities to abandon the wild foods they have relied upon for millennia, or risk the harmful effects of mercury poisoning. Harvard researcher Elsie Sunderland forecasts “unacceptably high” levels of methylmerucry contamination from the Muskrat Falls mega-project for communities that rely heavily on wild foods from the Churchill River.

The 2016 Harvard research, in a study of dozens of dams proposed or under construction in Canada – which relies on hydropower for three-fifths of its electricity – has also found that 99 percent of these projects expose indigenous populations to unacceptable levels of methylmercury.[1]  The area of land planned to be flooded in the boreal forest for Hydro-Québec dams will exceed the size of the state of Vermont.

Central Maine Power’s transmission line is an onslaught on the people and environment of Maine. The opportunistic and blatant disregard for the functions and values of the forested lands in western Maine, scientifically proven to act as a carbon sink to New England, is a travesty. Our forest provides a benefit to clean air and water that no scar of a transmission line kept open for years with herbicides and cutover can possibly amend. To suggest that it is a clean way for Massachusetts to don a renewable energy cloak going into the future is patently ridiculous and mendacious.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Becky Bartovics

Member, Sierra Club Maine executive committee
Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec and their public relations teams are correct on one thing—we are at an important crossroads in terms of our energy future. But the solutions are not to be found from international corporations that have little care for local communities or our environment.  Sierra Club is taking the lead on solutions found in the certainty that renewable energy resources provide.  If Central Maine Power is so concerned about the influence of the fossil fuel industry on policy, they should desist in their continuing opposition to advancing renewables in the Maine legislature.

Tony Donovan is the chair and Becky Bartovics is a member of the Sierra Club Maine executive committee.