Reveals Hydro-Quebec’s financial incentive to “green-wash” power
Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club, and Maine Renewable Energy Association
(Augusta, ME) A new analysis released today by environmental and renewable energy organizations concludes that the transmission line through western Maine (NECEC) proposed by Central Maine Power (CMP) and Hydro-Quebec would not reduce carbon pollution and therefore would have no benefit for climate change. Instead the transmission line would redirect existing generation and enable Hydro-Quebec to profit from “green-washing” dirty, fossil-fuel power. These findings directly undermine one of the central claims by CMP about why the transmission line is “needed.”
Key findings include:
- NECEC would divert energy sales from other markets into New England; shifting flows between markets does not reduce total carbon emissions and may even increase them.
- Hydro-Quebec can and does buy energy from other low-priced markets and then sells its “green hydropower” into other higher-price markets, potentially creating the same impact on the environment as if Hydro-Quebec were generating power from fossil fuels directly.
- NECEC would suppress the development of new renewable energy generation in Maine, which, in contrast to Hydro-Quebec’s market-switching strategy, actually could lower carbon emissions, help curb climate change, and provide more local jobs and economic benefits than NECEC.
“Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing Maine, the nation, and the world,” said Sue Ely, Clean Energy Attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This report shows that CMP’s proposed transmission line would do nothing to reduce climate emissions. The study shows there will be just as much climate pollution created with or without this power line. Hydro-Quebec would merely be redirecting its existing electricity supply to Massachusetts, instead of selling that power to other customers. Unfortunately, CMP has not been honest about this and instead has tried to prey on the overwhelming consensus among Maine people that we need to act on climate. We need real action, not greenwashing.”
The analysis was conducted by Energyzt Advisors on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club, and the Maine Renewable Energy Association. It involved an examination of electricity generation and consumption within Quebec, and flows of power into and out of the province, including with areas that rely heavily on fossil fuels, such as New Brunswick and New York. It was also based on publicly available records that document Hydro-Quebec’s financial incentive to maximize profits from exports at the expense of accurate carbon accounting.
“New England families and businesses deserve affordable clean energy that creates local jobs, keeps money in communities, and actually reduces climate pollution,” said Mark Kresowik, Eastern Region Deputy Director for the Sierra Club. “Exporting New Englanders’ hard-earned dollars to purchase power from Canada with a new transmission line through Maine doesn’t accomplish any of these goals. State officials should support the real, local, clean energy opportunities provided by wind and solar projects that customers want and need instead.”
Over the 20-year lifetime of the proposed contract, Massachusetts ratepayers would send billions of dollars to Quebec to buy electricity, money that could be invested instead to generate jobs and renewable power generation within the region. For example, installing solar on the roofs of available buildings in New England would generate three times as much power as the proposed contract, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab. Those solar panels would represent new generation, in contrast to the CMP-Hydro-Quebec proposal.
Evidence in the record at the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) clearly shows that Hydro-Quebec would not undertake any construction of new generation facilities or equipment in order to provide power for NECEC. Because NECEC would not result in any new generation capacity, the power would come in large part from reduced exports by Hydro-Quebec to other markets. The study found that additional generation in those markets would be, at best, as dirty as the power being displaced in New England, making for no net carbon reduction. At worst, the power plants making up for that loss could be dirtier, resulting in increased atmospheric pollution.
Hydro-Quebec has refused to participate as a party in the agency review of transmission proposals, both in Maine at the PUC and in New Hampshire (with regard to the Northern Pass project). As a result, the evidence provided to the Maine PUC has come in the form of second-hand statements by CMP.
“This report makes clear that CMP and Hydro-Quebec still haven’t answered the key question: Is this Canadian power going to help reduce harmful polluting power?” said Jeremy Payne, Executive Director for the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “In fact, it seems to create more questions than answers – and unfortunately HQ has chosen to hide behind CMP rather than being forthcoming. As with other energy projects in Maine, those pushing it should be willing to answer these questions honestly and publicly. Maine-made clean energy developers have long understood the need to listen to and engage with their host communities— it’s too bad Hydro-Quebec hasn’t felt the need to follow suit.”
The report also identifies another form of green-washing: Hydro-Quebec’s ability to use its storage reservoirs to hold back water when cheaper, dirtier power can be imported into the province, only to later release that stored water to supply lucrative export markets, such as Massachusetts. This is the equivalent of Massachusetts buying dirty power from other Canadian provinces. Hydro-Quebec has the means and the financial incentive to behave in this way, and nothing in the NECEC project (including the contracts with Massachusetts) would prevent it or even be able to monitor it.
Finally, the report echoes other findings that indicate that the injection of large amounts of power from Quebec into the Maine transmission system could harm existing and potential renewable energy development in Maine. Access to markets through the transmission system is already a challenge for the operation and development of renewable energy in Maine.
“To reduce carbon emissions we need to generate additional, new renewable power. Developing new renewable power sources can also create jobs and help Maine’s economy,” said Sue Ely from NRCM. “In fact, this project also fails to deliver any new renewable electricity and it is likely to harm efforts to do so. In addition to its lack of climate benefits, the CMP power line would harm wildlife, habitat, and recreational resources.”