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Canadian Hydroelectricity, Massachusetts’ Next Big Thing?

July 30, 2014

Even though they’re more than 1,000 miles north of Massachusetts, Canadian energy companies with hydroelectricity power plants are vying to supply the most populous New England state.  Canadian hydroelectricity companies like Nalcor Energy and its larger rival Hydro-Quebec have already met with Beacon Hill lawmakers and their Canadian regional counterparts to discuss energy and economic implications of supplying Massachusetts with Canadian hydroelectricity.

Hydroelectricity refers to the harnessing of electricity from the gravitational falling and force of water.  Hydroelectricity also is a cheap renewable source of energy and is largely produced at dams north of the Canada-USA border.  Canadian hydroelectricity would be the ideal source of power to replace the energy New England will lose with the closing of its last coal plant in 2017 and nuclear plants that have been shut down as well.  Also as a renewable source of energy, it would contribute to climate change by cutting greenhouse gases – an energy policy in lieu with the Obama administration’s recent carbon plan.

However the dominating hindrance that is preventing Massachusetts from enjoying Canadian hydroelectricity lies in the method of supply, or transmission.  Opponents of building transmission lines include residents in affected areas as well as environmentalists who believe the lines will bring more harm than good because of the wilderness areas they cut.  The dams that produce hydroelectricity take up large swaths of land while also irreversibly altering these natural landscapes.  Environmentalists and leaders in renewable energy innovation also feel that taking advantage of cheap renewable sources such as hydroelectricity will reduce funding and cut the push to find cheaper and more environmentally sound alternative energy power sources.

Currently there are several proposed transmission lines, some of them estimated to cost more than $1 billion.  They range in length of a 60 miles line from Lake Champlain to Vermont to the longest transmission line of 350 miles bringing wind power down from Maine as well as transporting hydroelectricity from Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes.

The Canadian-Massachusetts hydroelectricity alliance seems to be waiting on the resolution of Governor Deval Patrick’s solar bill that is being dogged by last minute negotiations and lobbying.  With replacing the lost energy from the closing of the coal and nuclear plants hanging over lawmakers – there is an urgency to find an alternative source and hydroelectricity seems to be a clear option.  The bill seeks to increase the state’s clean energy from 600 megawatts to 2,400 megawatts, positioning cheap hydroelectricity to easily satisfy the increase.  However there is still major pushback from representatives of residents from the areas where these dams and lines will be located as well as from environmentalists who argue that this bill would be a faux solution to resolving Massachusetts’ need to find replacement energy while remaining clean.