“People have better things to do with their money than pay a utility bill”

By Lynn St-Laurent, Senior Communications Advisor, Hydro-Québec

This is something our CEO at Hydro-Québec, Sophie Brochu, has often said to illustrate what the rallying cry needs to be for all of us in the electricity world: spare the end user.

Transitioning away from fossil-fuel based electricity sources to renewable energy will unmistakably increase costs, from shutting down polluting power plants and replacing them with clean energy sources and building the needed transmission to get those renewable megawatt hours – more often generated far away from population centres – to destination.

It isn’t workers, families or small businesses who ought to shoulder the bulk of these costs. Decarbonisation must be made as affordable as possible. And the onus is on us, within the energy industry, to make sure that it is. If we fail to do this, the path to zero emissions will be a path to nowhere.

Hydropower is the backbone of cost-effective electricity generation

Hydropower – which supplies 60% of electricity needs in Canada – provides affordable energy to homes and businesses in Canada and many regions of the world. For countries that have invested in hydropower, the technology is the backbone of low-cost electricity generation.

"For countries that have invested in hydropower, the technology is the backbone of low-cost electricity generation."

While hydropower projects have high upfront construction costs, they can provide clean, reliable and dispatchable energy for many decades, with low and predictable operating costs. The longevity of hydropower means that its levelised cost of energy – measuring the cost of an energy source over its lifetime – is lower than most other known technologies.

As an example, the Beauharnois generating station, located south of Montreal, is one of Hydro-Québec’s most senior facilities. Its first phase was built almost one hundred years ago, in 1929. It is the fifth largest of our powerhouses in terms of output, with an installed capacity of over 1,900 MW. This decades-old giant plays a strategic role in the Hydro-Québec grid by guaranteeing rapid restoration of power to the Montréal area in case of a major outage. It also exports power to Ontario and New York State.

A wise decision: hydropower for Québec

Québec is a water-rich territory, and in the 1960s and 70s, while many parts of the world were embracing nuclear technology, the province chose to put its faith in hydropower. A wise decision indeed. Today, Hydro-Québec is the largest renewable energy provider in North America, and it is Québec that boasts the lowest electricity rates on the continent.

Lowest rates in North America – Residential customers – Monthly bills for a consumption of 1,000 kWh/month (in CA$). In Québec, our residential rates are nearly half of those in Toronto, and close to four and half times lower than those in New York. (Rates in effect April 1, 2021)

Regional collaboration and grid integration lead to shared benefits

Hydro-Québec operates a state-of-the-art transmission system, one of the most extensive in North America, with 15 interconnections to our neighbouring markets, allowing power interchanges with grids in the Atlantic provinces, Ontario and the US Northeast.

Long-term contracts with our neighbours create a conduit for rate stability and affordability, extending the economic benefits of Hydro-Québec’s vast hydropower development to its neighbours. Thanks to a long-term contract signed in 2010 with Hydro-Québec, Vermont consumers have not suffered the sharp rate increases that have affected other parts of New England in recent years.

"In New York, decreased wholesale electricity costs thanks to the new Champlain Hudson Power Express intertie, which will be commissioned in 2026, are forecasted to save New Yorkers more than US$17 billion statewide over 30 years."

In New York, decreased wholesale electricity costs thanks to the new Champlain Hudson Power Express intertie, which will be commissioned in 2026, are forecasted to save New Yorkers more than US$17 billion statewide over 30 years. Furthermore, stable pricing over the duration of the 25-year contract will go a long way to shield New Yorkers from gas market volatility and the ensuing exploding electricity costs that have recently been seen in the state.

What might be the most meaningful benefit to increased use of hydropower is how it reduces the need for competing fossil fuel generation and, in turn, harmful pollutants. This translates to fewer incidence of illness and premature death, fewer days of lost school or work, less disruption of business, and lower healthcare costs.

Additionally, large hydropower is the only form of baseload renewable energy supply that has the flexibility to balance the intermittency of wind and solar, particularly as concentrations of these technologies grow. Without it, the need for natural gas or other fossil fuel-based generation and the associated supply infrastructure will continue, in contradiction of decarbonisation objectives.

As a natural battery, hydropower can provide reliable energy storage at the scale and duration that is required to enable the necessary growth in variable renewables like wind and solar.

Build it, and they will come

Efficiency gains, that is (not baseball players).

An extensive hydropower network with such a magnitude of megawatts has, in addition to its low-carbon, reliable and cost-effective supply of energy, another very large benefit: through modernisation, we can get more out of the fleet that we’ve already built.

From equipment upgrades alone, Hydro-Québec will realise 2,000 megawatts in capacity from existing generating stations by 2035. 2,000 megawatts… that’s far more than our last four generating units at the La Romaine complex (1,550 MW) put together.

Romaine-2 Generating Station, Québec Côte-Nord

Having built-out an extensive 37+GW hydropower fleet, any small percentage efficiency gain in our powerhouses or in the homes of those we serve can lead to large volumes of freed up power.  

Improving how the company’s generating stations produce power is one part of Hydro-Québec’s increased supply plan; another part is improving how Quebeckers use energy at home and other buildings. Energy efficiency measures have already delivered tremendous gains over the past years, and we’re banking on even more, to the tune of over 8 terawatt hours of freed-up energy, by 2029.

Next steps for Hydro-Québec

Depending on demand growth in Québec, new hydropower generating capacity may be required at some point in the future. To ready ourselves for this eventuality, we will continue to assess the sites with the most potential for hydropower development, working in cooperation with the local and Indigenous communities concerned.

This will entail exploring all possible options, including upgrades, deploying new structures and building pumped storage generating stations, to accurately appraise the situation and make informed decisions on the development of Québec’s hydropower sector.

Hydro-Québec feels positive about demand for clean energy at home and in our markets

We will continue to fulfill our mission in the coming decades. That’s why we’re being proactive and making sure our facilities evolve to meet the needs of the energy transition.

It is by innovating and rethinking our grid’s design and operation that we will meet the growing demand for our clean energy and keep pace with changing customer expectations.

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