Quebec Begins Five-Billion-Dollar Hydro-Electric Project
MONTREAL -- Quebec began construction of a C$5 billion ($4.2 billion) hydro-electric project Thursday that will add 883 megawatts of generating capacity to the provincially owned utility's power network, officials said.
Under the project, which will provide enough power for 425,000 residential clients by 2010, Hydro-Quebec will build two new powerhouses in the province's northern James Bay region.
Hydro-Quebec, which generates and distributes most of the province's electricity, and is a key supplier to the northeastern U.S. states, expects the big development will produce power at a cost of 5.1 Canadian cents a kilowatt-hour, for sale at 8 Canadian cents per kWh or more on the open market.
It will take some 4,000 workers to build the project, which officials said would provide energy security for Quebec and act as a key economic development tool.
"We are the fourth-largest (power) producer in the world," said Quebec Premier Jean Charest. "It gives us a comparative advantage over our neighbors and allows us to do development."
The project includes a 758 MW generating station called Eastmain-1-A, located at the Eastmain-1 reservoir, and a 120 MW station dubbed La Sarcelle, at the Opinaca reservoir.
The development also calls for the diversion of part of the Rupert River, one of the province's largest undammed waterways, and the construction of four dams, 72 dikes and a 2.9 km tunnel to transfer water between basins.
The project faced opposition from environmental groups and many local aboriginal groups, especially among the Cree and Inuit, who live in the remote region that stretches up to Hudson Bay.
The venue for Thursday's announcement was changed at the last minute from the northern Cree community of Waskaganish, at the mouth of the Rupert River, to Hydro-Quebec's Montreal headquarters.
In the mid-1990s, the Cree blocked Quebec's multibillion-dollar Great Whale hydro-electric project, but after a rapprochement with the provincial government in 2002, supported the new Eastmain-1-A/Sarcelle plan.
"Today, I stand here with mixed emotions," said Matthew Mukash, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees.
Quebec's northern Cree community need jobs and economic development, but the province's massive hydro-electric projects have a big environmental impact on their traditional lands, which they rely on for survival and include sacred burial sites.
"We know that some of those sacred sites may be under water. It's a very difficult thing to go through," Mukash said.
Officials said the Cree will benefit from new jobs and by sharing in business contracts awarded for the power plan.
Quebec Environment Minister Claude Bechard said the project represents "green" power development and would help in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for contributing to global climate change.