Big hydro producers could miss out
By MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT ENVIRONMENT
Many of Canada's largest power companies
risk being frozen out of lucrative new electricity markets
because power from large hydro dams doesn't qualify as
green under new rules being considered in many parts of
the United States.
The pollution watchdog for the North
American free-trade agreement says at least one state
totally rejects hydro electric power as environmentally
friendly, while others consider it green power only if
it comes from small-scale stations.
Nearly half the states either have or
plan regulations requiring a minimum level of green electricity
to be sold in their jurisdictions. Almost none consider
power from large dams environmentally benign, says watchdog
agency the Commission for Environmental Co-operation.
Most of the $2-billion worth of electricity
Canada exports each year to the United States comes from
large hydro-electric producers, such as Hydro-Quebec,
B.C. Hydro and Manitoba Hydro. All of these utilities
have dammed major northern rivers, often extolling the
environmental advantages of this approach.
"For producers in the Canadian energy
industry that contend all power generated from large-scale
hydro power is renewable, it represents an issue of major
future importance as states increase over time the mandatory
percentages of green electricity sold," the commission
said in a statement.
The commission, which is based in Montreal,
is holding exploratory talks today on whether it should
push Canada, Mexico and the United States into seeking
a common definition of green energy.
"As we move toward a continental
energy market and as states increase the percentage of
electricity that must come from green sources, developing
a common definition of those sources will be an important
area of harmonization for the NAFTA partners," Janine
Ferretti, the commission's executive director, said.
The U.S. rules discriminating against
big hydro projects have made some Canadian producers nervous.
"We're monitoring, and we're concerned about that,"
said Glenn Schneider, spokesman for Manitoba Hydro, which
sells nearly $500-million worth of electricity to U.S.
states and other provinces each year.
Questions about the environmental drawbacks
of large hydro projects have irked Canadian utilities.
They've argued that big projects don't produce the acid
gas and smog emissions that come from coal-fired generating
plants, don't leave nuclear waste and are a renewable
resource. They believe hydro power should be favoured
under any environmental regulations. Coal and nuclear
plants would not be accepted as green.
Many conservationists have countered
that hydro dams disrupt fish stocks, lead to mercury and
methane pollution from the rotting vegetation submerged
in reservoirs, and destroy sensitive river habitat.
Most states requiring a percentage of
their market to supplied by green power consider wind,
biomass and solar energy environmentally friendly. This
green power typically commands a premium in the marketplace
and is often 10 per cent more expensive than power from
One state, Missouri, excludes hydro power
entirely from the green classification, according to the
commission. Others, such as California, consider it green
only if it comes from small stations of 100 megawatts
or less capacity. One megawatt of capacity would supply
the residential power needs of about 350 households.