New Hydro-Quebec Contract May Be Signed This Week

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(Host) Utility executives hope to sign a new power contract with Hydro-Quebec this week during a top level trade mission to Canada.

Governor Jim Douglas will lead the business delegation to Quebec City, where he will meet with Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Vermont’s two largest electric utilities have been negotiating for more than a year with Hydro-Quebec. Officials close to the talks say the negotiations could bear fruit this week.

Robert Dostis is an executive with Green Mountain Power.

(Dostis) "Will there be some kind of deal to be announced at this time up in Quebec? At this point, we can only hope. But we won’t know until we actually have a final contract or deal in place."

(Dillon) Hydro-Quebec now supplies about a third of Vermont’s electricity under contracts that expire in the middle of the decade.

Negotiations for a new power deal have intensified recently, with top utility officials from Vermont traveling to Canada for the talks.

The utilities’ bargaining power may be getting a boost in the Statehouse. A House committee has taken up a bill that would classify electricity from Quebec’s massive dams as "renewable" energy.

Under current law, large-scale hydro projects are not considered renewable. That’s in part because of environmental problems created by damming rivers and flooding land.

But Quebec Premier Jean Charest has pushed for the "renewable" definition for Hydro-Quebec in order to help energy sales to the United States. East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He says the bill adds leverage to the talks under way in Canada.

(Klein) "We here in the Legislature know that our utilities are in negotiation for hopefully another long-term contract with Hydro-Quebec. And we believe this recognition of something that they want adds value to that deliberation process …We are going to get value if we’re going to designate that resource as renewable."

(Dillon) The House bill says Hydro-Quebec gets to use the "renewable" label only if it signs a contract for 10 years or more. Klein says this language is designed to put added pressure on Hydro-Quebec.

(Klein) "We are looking for a long-term contract at preferable rates. And if it’s not a long-term contract at preferable rates, (it) doesn’t need to be in our bill."

(Dillon) Many environmentalists in the 1990s opposed a power deal with Quebec because of the damage to the rivers and hunting grounds used by native people.

Jim Higgins is a Lincoln resident who first fought Hydro-Quebec’s expansion plans 20 years ago. He says more dams are being built to serve the export market. Higgins wonders why environmentalists are largely silent this time around.

(Higgins) "This was in the news all through the ‘90s. And somehow it’s not even an issue now, it seems. I don’t know why, because the issues are the same."

(Dillon) But one thing that’s changed is concern about greenhouse gas pollution. Vermont utilities say that Hydro-Quebec can provide a carbon-free energy source for decades to come. They’re hoping to lock in that supply this week.

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


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