Quebec eyes potential for medium-sized hydro totaling 5,000 MW

The Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) reports Quebec could develop medium-sized hydroelectric projects that would generate 5,000 MW and several million dollars worth of private investment.

MEI, an independent non-profit research and education organization, issued an Economic Note, saying that while giant hydropower projects have been pursued by Hydro-Quebec and small hydro has been developed by the private sector, the medium-scale niche of projects from 50 to 125 MW has been neglected.

In May, the government of Quebec launched Plan Nord, a multi-billion-dollar program to open northern reaches of the Canadian province to mining and energy development including an estimated 2,000 MW of hydropower.

“When we think of hydroelectric dams, the first things that spring to mind are gigantic projects like the ones in James Bay, which are Hydro-Quebec’s specialty,” F. Pierre Gingras, MEI’s industrial engineering specialist said in the Economic Note. “But there are many projects of a more modest scale that could be put forward by local communities, whose economic impact analyses would take into account tourist and recreational as well as real estate considerations.”

The note said there are about 50 potential medium-sized hydro sites that could produce from 3,000 to 5,000 MW. However, it said the development of the promising multi-purpose sites is constantly being postponed.

The note said Hydro-Quebec concentrates on large projects that are more economical per kilowatt-hour produced, even though medium-sized projects would be sufficiently profitable. It noted the big utility’s mission is production, transportation, and distribution of electricity, not considering the real estate, tourism, and recreational benefits stemming from the smaller projects.

“Such projects cannot support the weight of the study and approval process applied to large projects,” it said. “Neither do they require the same management method, the same business culture, or the same technical requirements justified by larger projects of strategic importance to the network.”

The Economic Note proposed entrusting development of medium-sized projects to regional county municipalities and native communities. They would incorporate the developments into their land use plans and choose their partners through calls for proposals to engineering firms, including many in Quebec with the skills and experience.

It said Hydro-Quebec’s main role would be to establish an energy purchase contract and perhaps become a nominal partner in the projects.

Examples of potential hydro sites include:
o Haut Maurice River — five projects of 60 to 65 MW each, plus other sites on tributaries such as the Vermillion, Trench, and Matawin rivers;
o Kipawa Reservoir — a potential 70-MW project on the existing dam on the Ottawa River;
o St. Francois River — a 65-MW project at Spicer Rapids;
o Gatineau River — at least three sites totaling 130 to 160 MW between Mercier Dam and Paugan Reservoir in the Maniwaki-Grand Remous Region;
o Upper Du Lievre River — a 50- to 60-MW project at falls 80 kilometers upstream from Mont-Laurier in the Ferme-Neuve Region;
o Lake St. John and Saguenay River — a 125-MW project fed by the three main tributaries of Kenogami Reservoir, plus another 10 projects on the Rats, Mistassini, and Mistassibi rivers;
o St. Lawrence River — a 45- to 60-MW project on the dikes of the Montreal Region’s first hydroelectric plant, still in place at Lachine Rapids.

The Economic Note, “The Neglected Potential of Medium Scale Hydroelectric Projects,” may be obtained from the MEI Internet site at

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