Quebec-Massachusetts Power Sale Finds New Route as Chisasibi Cree Tally Environmental Impact
Hydro-Québec’s C$10-billion electricity import-export deal with Massachusetts got new life last week, courtesy of a new plan to transmit the power through Maine rather than New Hampshire.
The new route became necessary after a regulator in New Hampshire slammed the door on the proposed Northern Pass Transmission Line in early February. The project overview for the New England Clean Connect project says the line will carry electricity produced by a mix of large hydro and onshore wind.
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With the Maine route now opening up, “we have received a go-ahead to negotiate a deal,” said Hydro-Québec spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent, a process that is expected to conclude by April 25.
“Hydro-Québec must determine the costs on the Canadian side of the border, including a route in Quebec to build a transmission line to the Maine border,” CBC reports. “The public utility will also have to return to the drawing board to conduct impact, technical, and environmental studies.”
The project’s backers expect less opposition in Maine than they encountered in New Hampshire, since nearly two-thirds of the route runs through existing hydro corridors. But last month, the Canadian Press carried a story from the Cree community of Chisasibi, Quebec, where Elders blame the loss of eelgrass meadows, among the most biologically productive habitats on Earth, on two of the big dams that are part of the province-wide system now set to feed 9.45 terawatt-hours per year of electricity to Massachusetts.
“The Cree suspect Hydro-Quebec’s massive dams and reservoirs along the La Grande and Eastmain rivers release so much fresh water they have damaged, if not destroyed, the salt-loving eelgrass beds all the way up to Hudson Bay, more than 100 kilometres north,” CP reported. A study now under way, conducted by University of New Hampshire seagrass ecologist Fred Short, “suggests a link between Hydro-Quebec’s operations and the marine plant’s disappearance.”
Short told CP the salinity of the water has declined since the dams were built, water from the La Grande reservoir is more silty, river outflows have increased 60%, and the fresher water freezes more readily than it used to. He attributed those problems to hydro development, upstream agriculture, and deforestation.
“The utility has said in the past that the problem is caused by disease, climate change, and shoreline changes,” CP reports, but Short disagrees.
“Salinity (is) a big part of the problem, and water clarity is also a concern,” he said.
Short’s research is part of a wider effort that got under way in 2016, after four communities along the east coast of James Bay raised concerns about changing ecosystems.
“We will be able to understand, at least, the connection between that and hydroelectric development,” said Marc Dunn, environment director at Niskamoon Corporation, which oversees agreements between Hydro-Québec and the communities. “We’ll be able to see what sort of development projects may be contributing to lower water quality.” And then, “we’re hoping for a series of recommendations, if there’s anything we can do to minimize the effect on the eelgrass.”