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January 25, 2013

Cold snap and energy consumption

(Continued)

All in all, the report, based on the research of a noted energy analyst, projects Hydro-Quebec may need to pay some $4.5 billion over the next seven years to cover the surplus power it is committed to buy. And there are still many more energy projects in the planning stages or coming on line in the coming years, which were launched on the basis of HQ’s commitment to purchase the power produced.

This abundance of power at the command of Hydro-Quebec perhaps helps explain, in part, a couple of other energy policy decisions made in the past few months by the new Parti Quebecois government.

Last month, the province’s one and only nuclear power plant stopped generating power, the fulfillment of a PQ election campaign promise. The process of “decommissioning” and dismantling the 29-year-old Gentilly 2 facility is expected to take more than 50 years and cost an estimated $1.8 billion. Refurbishing the plant, according to government figures, would have cost more than twice that.

Then there is the relatively nascent oil and gas industry in Quebec. One of the initial acts of the PQ when it came to power in the fall was to slap an indefinite moratorium on development of the province’s potentially enormous shale-gas resources.

The natural resources minister who imposed the fracking freeze is Martine Ouellet, a former engineer with Hydro Quebec with strong credentials as an environmentalist but someone who also knows her way around the boardroom.

Ironically, the moratorium riled former PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard, now an oil and gas industry lobbyist. It also provoked a U.S. energy company doing exploration in Quebec to launch court action, claiming the moratorium violates NAFTA rules.

So, for the foreseeable future at least, it seems we’ll still have our friends in Alberta to thank for keeping our house warm during the winter deep freeze. And the longer the freeze lasts, generating what we’ve been told is record consumption in a province where two-thirds of homes are heated with electricity, the less of a surplus Hydro Quebec will have.

But, to paraphrase critics, hell may freeze over before that surplus is burned off.

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