Canadian Hydropower

The 2016 Energy Diversity Act mandates the procurement of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind and 1,200 megawatts of additional energy in the form of solar, wind, anaerobic digestion, or hydropower.Sierra Club staff & Pessamit Innu elders from Quebec, at an event in Brookline Mass July 2017

Hydropower is considered a form of clean energy by some because it does not rely on fossil fuels. However large hydropower projects entail significant costs both ecologically and in terms of environmental justice.

 - Methane: Damming a river entails the submersion of organic material. This decomposing organic material releases methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, much more powerful than carbon dioxide. Researchers at Washington State University found that methane emissions were approximately 25% higher than previously thought.

 - Habitat: Damming rivers permanently disrupts the balance of ecosystems, displacing people and animals by destroying the environment they had depended on for thousands of years. Hydro Quebec has resettled thousands of First Nation communities and devastated their traditional fishing and hunting grounds.

 - Coastal Erosion: Rivers and streams typically carry sediments downstream, ultimately depositing them on ocean and lake shores. Dams and reservoirs built along rivers are an interruption to this flow, trapping huge amounts of river sediment--in the case of larger dams, up to 100% of it. Subsequently, the sediment is unable to be deposited along riverbeds and shorelines, leading to massive amounts of coastal erosion.

 - Marine Life: Fish get drawn into turbines, suffer increased predation due to altered habitats, and have been shown to suffer from stress and be injuried passing through dams. Also, reservoirs cultivate excess algae and weeds, crowding out other species. Reservoirs are also lower in dissolved oxygen, which can lead to some parts of the water being unlivable. The impact on animals has been demonstrated in Maine, where ever since the removal of the Great Works Dam in 2012 and the Veazie Dam in 2013 the number of salmon and other fish tripled from the previous year with the dam.

Large-scale Hydro’s Impact on People and the Environment

Lands that have been submerged by large scale dams in Canada were occupied by First Nations people in Canada for millennia. These communities existed generations before the establishment of Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. It is unconscionable that we would abet the destruction of the homes of these Canadian peoples - especially when non-destructive alternatives are available to us, alternatives that make more climate and economic sense. Truly renewable sources of power like wind and solar can provide more than enough of Massachusetts energy needs, provide local economic development, and boost our energy independence. We currently send close to $20 billion out of our state every year for energy. Why not invest that money here in local clean energy? 

In July 2017 a group of Pessamit Innu elders traveled from Quebec to Massachusetts to tell their story of how the existing Hydro-Quebec dams have affected their way of life, and how they would be further negatively impacted with an increase in demand by Massachusetts energy suppliers. Click here for a presentation by the Pessamit Innu.

New Transmission Line Proposals

Delivery of much larger quantities of Canadian hydropower would require a new high voltage line. The project first chosen to meet this need was referred to as "The Northern Pass," proposed to run through New Hampshire. The Northern Pass Project was fiercely opposed by a wide range of organizations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including the Appalachian Mountain Club, many local Chambers of Commerce, recreational groups, as well as the Sierra Club. After much deliberation and advocacy, a key permit to allow this project was rejected by the New Hampsire Site Evaluation Committee.  This led project proponents to seek option number two - the controversial "New England Clean Energy Connect," instead proposed to run through Maine. Sierra Club remains opposed to this project.

Reliability During Peak Demand 

A major concern of energy planners is reliability of power sources and ability to meet our peak energy needs. Our greatest energy needs occur during particularly cold spells, when demand for natural gas for heating is greatest. Natural gas is also our main source of power for electricity. Canada's greatest energy needs also occur in winter, and Hydro Quebec is a government entity. It is not reasonable to rely on Hydro Quebec to supply us power during the periods of greatest energy demand in Canada. Additionally, due to the current language of contracts being negotiated, Hydro Quebec is not actually required to supply Massachusetts with power generated from its dams operational capacity. It could instead purchase energy from other markets during times of depressed prices and sell that to Massachusetts during times of peak demand. In theory, Massachusetts could either be stuck with higher prices or dirtier energy, or both.


February 2018 Sierra Club op-ed: Silver Lining in Northern Pass collapse
January 2018 Boston Globe - In Quebec, it's power versus a people on hydroelectricity
December 2017 Sierra Club op-ed: Hydro-Quebec power is not what we want
November 2017 Letter to Governor Baker from Pocasset Wampanoag, Nipmuc Nation, Herring Pond Wampanoag
August 2017 Rene Simon, Chief of the Pessamit Innu First Nation, Concord (NH) Monitor - My Turn: Hydro-Quebec cannot rewrite history
July 2017 CABA Blog: Hydro-Quebec and the Northern Pass Project
July 2017 Power Point presentation on impacts of Hydro-Quebec on the Pessamit Innu