Environmental groups plan Montreal utility protests

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(Host) Office workers in Montreal may see an unusual sight today in the city’s downtown.

Environmental groups plan to string a huge clothesline around the headquarters of Hydro-Quebec.

It’s part of a new round of protests against the provincial utility’s plans to build new power projects in northern Quebec.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Alex Lee has a unique way of calling attention to what he says are wasteful energy projects.

He’s with an organization based in Concord, New Hampshire called Project Laundry List. Lee says six percent of home energy use goes to power clothes dryers. So he says if people used the sun and air instead, they’d save electricity and reduce the need for large power projects.

(Lee) "It’s time for us to do our part to conserve energy by hanging out our clothes."

(Dillon) Alex Lee’s own spin cycle includes a lighthearted protest with a serious message.

He and other environmentalists say they’ll string a 400 foot clothesline around the headquarters of Hydro-Quebec in Montreal. Project laundry List – along with more than a dozen national environmental groups want to focus attention on the utility’s plan to build new power projects on the Rupert and Eastmain Rivers in northern Quebec.

Lee says he’s floated the Rupert five times. He says it’s the longest un-dammed river left in the region.

(Lee) "The flooding is going to have a huge impact on the environment. People don’t think about the environmental impacts of large hydro because they hear the word renewable and they think that means sustainable."

(Dillon) The environmentalists say the project would dam and divert the river, creating a new reservoir that would cover 135 square miles of land.

They say hunting and fishing grounds used by the Cree natives would be damaged and that the flooded land would cause toxic mercury to move up the food chain into fish eaten by people.

The protests are similar to efforts in the early 1990s when regional and national environmental groups rallied to stop Hydro-Quebec’s Great Whale project.

Hydro-Quebec officials say the groups have their facts wrong. They released a statement saying the project has undergone extensive environmental review, that fish habitat will be preserved, and that the river and surrounding land will still be used by native people.

Hydro Quebec says the project will reduce greenhouse gas pollution by offsetting the need for fossil-fuel generation.

But Lee says big reservoirs actually contribute to global warming, since flooded land releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

(Lee) "Just because you can’t see carbon dioxide which is 20 times less potent than methane coming out of a smokestack in northern Quebec, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t huge environmental impacts from flooding an area."

(Dillon) Lee says much of the power produced by the project is destined for the export market. Vermont now gets about 30% of its electricity from Hydro-Quebec, but those contracts are set to expire in the next decade.

Hydro-Quebec says that’s not true. The utility says the project is designed to supply renewable energy for Quebec.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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