Proposed Quebec water diversion includes 11 hydro plants, 3,000 MW

A report by an independent institute proposes diverting flood waters from three northern Quebec rivers to generate 14 terawatt-hours annually at 11 hydro plants and to sell 25 billion cubic meters of water each year.

The so-called Northern Waters project is proposed in an economic note by the Montreal Economic Institute, a non-partisan, not-for-profit research and education organization. MEI describes itself as “suggesting reforms for wealth creation based on market mechanisms.”

The report says the proposal, written by former Hydro-Quebec hydro construction planner and manager F. Pierre Gingras, is economically feasible and profitable, with limited environmental effects. Costing an investment of about C$15 billion (US$13.5 billion), the project would have annual revenues from power generation alone of C$2 billion (US$1.8 billion), with additional estimated revenues of C$7.5 billion (US$6.78 billion) from water exports. Another several million dollars per year could be raised from sale of carbon emissions reduction credits from generation of hydropower.

“The profitability of this project is not in doubt because it is largely ensured by hydroelectric production before water export revenues are even considered,” said Gingras, a specialist in industrial engineering who worked for Hydro-Quebec for 31 years.

To divert floodwaters of Broadback, Waswanipi, Bell

Northern Waters would capture only surplus water generated by seasonal flooding on three rivers in the James Bay Basin that have not been developed for hydropower, the Broadback, Waswanipi, and Bell. The water would be gathered in basins and diverted via natural riverbeds through a series of six pumping stations along the Bell River to the Val d’Or pass, the highest point before waters can flow by gravity down the Ottawa River Valley.

That additional average flow of 800 cubic meters per second would flow down the Ottawa River to the St. Lawrence River just above Montreal. The report proposed additional generating equipment at 11 hydro plants totaling 3,000 MW to utilize the additional flows.

“It would be exploited by adding more power facilities to the existing dams on the Ottawa River or through a more intensive use of existing plants, which are not running at full capacity,” the report said. “This would involve very modest civil engineering works compared to past Quebec projects — without flooding the surrounding landscape.”

The report said the additional generation would total 14 TWh, compared to the estimated 8 TWh that is expected from the four-plant, 1,550-MW Romaine hydro complex now under construction in Quebec for an estimated C$6.5 billion (US$5.88 billion). (HydroWorld 5/14/09)

MEI: Northern Waters deserves economic, environmental study

“This project looks very serious to us at first sight and deserves at least a credible independent economic and environmental impact study rather than a back-of-the-hand rejection for strictly ideological reasons or irrational political fears,” MEI President Michel Kelly-Gagnon said.

The report said the project would have limited impact on the environment, including the Ottawa River, which would have a stable flow, without natural flooding. About 860 of the 1,200 kilometers the water would travel consist of lakes and reservoirs that would remain unchanged. The rivers being diverted would not dry up and only a small land surface would be submerged, the report said.

The report considered several scenarios for water export. Flows of 800 cms from the new source could help regulate water levels on the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, where levels have been dropping in recent years. Ontario and the United States also could choose to divert some of the water for consumption. Surplus could be delivered to the U.S. Midwest and South via the Chicago Canal and the Mississippi River.

“If public leaders choose to verify the feasibility and profitability of the project, this preliminary study can serve as a basis for more detailed technical and impact studies involving independent engineering firms, as was the case for the La Grande complex,” the report concluded. (HydroWorld 7/18/07)

The MEI Economic Note, “Northern Waters,” may be obtained from the MEI Internet site,

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