Ben Goldeskey: The real cost of Hydro-Quebec’s “renewable energy”

This commentary is from Ben Gordesky, director of renewable energy at DC Energy Innovations in North Hero and Burlington. He has been involved in the clean energy and environmental justice movement for decades.

2010, Vermont Congressman raised the ceiling Hydropower and Vermont have become one of the only states in which utilities can meet renewable energy needs with electricity produced by hydropower on a large scale. About 62% of the electricity used here in Vermont currently comes from hydropower About half comes from Hydro-Quebec’s mega-dam.

This energy is technically “renewable” in the sense that it relies on a source of fuel that is replenished in a short time, but it is certainly not clean.

The Vermont Climate Council assesses the true environmental and humanitarian impacts of large-scale hydropower and reconsiders Vermont’s dependence on imported hydropower in developing the climate action plan that will shape the energy system of state in the future. need to do it.

Large-scale hydropower projects can have very high emissions of carbon dioxide and methane. Unlike many small hydroelectric feeder projects in Vermont, Hydro-Quebec dams store and release water when electricity is needed. They often inundate and drain hundreds of square kilometers of forest to store and release electricity-producing water.

Normally, when trees and vegetation that sequester carbon break down in water, the stored carbon is released. Some are released as carbon dioxide and most as methane. Methane doesn’t last as long as CO2, but it’s a much more potent greenhouse gas.

Emissions vary greatly depending on the age of the dam and the amount of vegetation that is decomposing, Recent research Shows that large-scale hydroelectric projects in Canada continue to emit about 40% of the electricity produced by the combustion of natural gas. These emissions do not include carbon dioxide emissions from the construction of dams.

Solar and wind, on the other hand, have a carbon footprint of 4% to 8% of natural gas, including the carbon footprint of construction. In other words, solar and wind power is at least five times cleaner than Canada’s large-scale hydropower.

We cannot afford to pretend that large-scale hydropower will mitigate the effects of climate change.

With more than 30% of Vermont’s electricity coming from Hydro-Quebec, it is reasonable to expect that Hydro-Quebec’s greenhouse gas emissions will be included in the gas inventory. state greenhouse effect.

Unfortunately, it is not the case. In the last state report, Regulators explain that they consider “wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear” as equivalent “zero emission” technologies. This is at best misleading and at worst completely misleading.

Vermont’s electricity sector looks cleaner than it actually is because the state ignores emissions from large-scale hydropower. These emissions are not simply counted because utilities purchase large amounts of electricity from Hydro-Quebec.

Unfortunately, this inability to accurately account for the environmental damage caused by Hydro-Québec extends beyond greenhouse gas emissions to native territorial sovereignty.

Hydro-Quebec 550 dams and dikes flooding over 6,000 square miles Of the territory. 36% of the total hydroelectricity installed by Hydro-Quebec was built on Indigenous lands without compensation or consent. These swollen rivers have undermined hunting and fishing traditions, forcing the displacement of the entire village, and causing dangerously high levels of mercury exposure.

When the lands of these northern regions are flooded, microorganisms convert natural mercury into methylmercury, a neurotoxin. Recent Harvard University Studies We found that over 90% of potential new Canadian hydroelectric projects are likely to increase the concentration of methylmercury in food webs near Indigenous communities.

The investigation revealed that the flooding caused by these hydroelectric projects Double Risk of methylmercury poisoning for people upstream.

By ignoring these nasty facts about reliance on large-scale hydropower, we can probably celebrate a clean energy system when Indigenous Canadians pay the price. This is a blatant example of environmental racism and it is unacceptable!

By encouraging and investing in local renewable energies, much more can be done to meet renewable energy needs, create local jobs and strengthen the resilience of communities. Today, by relying on Hydro-Québec, we are supporting organizations that have long ignored the rights of aboriginal peoples.

With local renewables, we are supporting the local economy by keeping the energy dollar in the state and creating jobs in the region.

While the damage that large-scale hydropower has already caused to the environment and Indigenous peoples cannot be undone, the Vermont Climate Council must change course and adopt fair and sustainable methods. Nothing more is needed for a just transition to a sustainable economy.

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