Why Quebec has been Importing Unclean Energy from Neighbouring Countries
Written by: Julian Knight
Edited by: Ada Collins
Hydro-Quebec is very much associated with Quebec’s energy sector as the corporation has a virtual monopoly over the hydro sector. Countries from across the world praise Quebec for its use of clean and renewable energy. However, many may be surprised to find out that Hydro-Quebec has been importing significant amounts of fossil fuel energy from their only direct neighbour: the United States.
As far back as the late nineteenth century, electricity has played an integral part in Quebec’s economy. Once dominated by a handful of American electricity companies, Quebec felt the need to take back the sector. Amidst the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the slogan “Maîtres Chez Nous”, or “Masters of Our Own Domain”, became famous. By the time Jean Lesage and his Liberal Party were elected, nationalization became a reality. By merging the defunct American companies, he thus helped found Hydro-Quebec as a government corporation.
Given its history in the electricity sector, people may wonder why Quebec would import fossil fuels from the United States and other countries. The simple answer to this query is that fossil fuel accounts for 56% of Quebec’s energy consumption, whereas hydro represents 36%. Even though Quebec uses a significant amount of hydro, the majority of Quebecers use methods of transportation (car, train, plane, etc.) that require the use of fossil fuel energy. What ultimately differentiates Quebec’s energy consumption from other North American regions is that heating and household electricity use are mainly sourced by clean hydroelectricity. In other sectors of energy use, fossil fuels are used as they are in other countries.
Awareness of U.S. energy imports has increased during the winter months, a time when energy consumption finds a peak; colder temperatures increase energy consumption in Quebec households. Within these periods, energy is consumed especially during cold snaps as well as in mornings and evenings, when people are heating their homes and using household appliances.
In conclusion, HydroQuebec's decision to import fossil fuel energy from the United States is driven by the need to quickly meet the growing demand for electricity in Quebec. In order to refrain from purchasing unclean foreign energy, credit is being rewarded to households who save on electricity during peak times. When combined, individual efforts may make a wide-scale difference.
Michaud, Jean. “What Role for Natural Gas in the World of Electrification?”, Energy in Quebec, May 2020. https://www.hydroquebec.com/residential/energy-wise/saving-during-peak-periods/index.html