Press-Republican

Columns

January 25, 2013

Cold snap and energy consumption

Whenever we have a cold snap like the one that invaded our part of the world this week, I think of my fellow Canadians in Alberta, who supply the natural gas that fuels our furnace, whose blue flames heat the water that flows through pipes and radiators and heats our house.

I think of Gaz Metro, the company that distributes that Alberta gas throughout Quebec (and part of Vermont) and to which we will pay a significant chunk of our household income this winter.

I try not to think of who actually owns Gaz Metro because it gets very confusing, but it seems it’s mostly owned by my Quebec-administered pension plan. A minority owner is continental pipeline giant Enbridge.

I also think of the political situation in Quebec, where there seems to be a very great ambivalence about the province being potentially self-sufficient in natural gas and oil.

In fact, there’s a lot to think about when one looks at the energy situation of Quebec.

For starters, there is the recent revelation that the provincially owned electrical utility Hydro-Quebec (which used to be a major shareholder of Gas Metro) has what analysts say is a staggering surplus of power. Or rather, it is committed to pay for electricity generated by privately operated wind, bio-mass, natural-gas and water-power projects.

In one instance, according to a published report, Hydro-Quebec will pay a major natural-gas utility some $150 million this year to not operate its power plant between Quebec City and Montreal, and that will most likely be the case for another three years. This has been going on since 2008.

In another case cited in the same report, Hydro-Quebec is on the hook for a hefty loss in its resale of wind power generated by several private operators. One example shows HQ paying nearly 12 cents per kw/hour for juice that it sells for 7 cents.

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