Type Government-owned corporation
Industry Electric Utilities
Founded April 14, 1944 (1944-04-14)
Headquarters Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Area served Quebec
Key people Thierry Vandal,
President & CEO[1]
Products Electricity generation, transmission and distribution
Revenue C$12.34 billion (2010)
increase 0.0% from 2009[2]
Operating income C$5.04 billion (2010)
decrease 4.5% from 2009[2]
Net income C$2.52 billion (2010)
decrease 12.4% from 2009[2]
Total assets C$65.90 billion (2010)[2]
Total equity C$18.57 billion (2010)[2]
Owner(s) Government of Quebec
Employees 23,659 (2010)[3]
Website www.hydroquebec.com

Hydro-Québec is a government-owned public utility established in 1944 by the Government of Quebec. Based in Montreal, the company is in charge of the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity across Quebec.

With sixty hydroelectric and one nuclear generating stations, Hydro-Québec is the largest electricity generator in Canada and the world's largest hydroelectric producer.[4][5][6] The combined capacity of its power stations was 36,671 megawatt (MW) and its distribution network served over 4 million customers in 2010.[3]

The development of several large-scale hydroelectric projects which took place non-stop from the late 1940s to the mid-1990s — the Bersimis, Carillon, Manic-Outardes, Churchill Falls and the two phases of the James Bay Project — allowed Quebec to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. In 2006, primary electricity accounted for 40.4% of all energy used in the province.[7] However, the construction and operation of these projects has led to conflicts with aboriginal populations living in Quebec's North.

Hydro-Québec has played a "nearly mythical role"[8] in Quebec's economic development since its establishment, with its sustained capital investments, by fostering local engineering expertise[9] and by its capacity to generate large quantities of electricity at low prices.[10]

Increasing energy costs and the growing international consensus on climate change[11] had a positive impact on Hydro-Québec's balance sheet in the last decade. Between 2006 and 2010, the company paid C$10.7 billion in dividends to its shareholder,[12] while keeping Quebec power rates among the lowest in North America.[13]



Three men climbing electric poles.
Montreal Light, Heat and Power linemen.

In the years after the Great Depression, voices were raised in Quebec asking for a government takeover in the electricity business. Many of the criticisms leveled at the so-called "electricity trust" focused on high rates and excessive profits. Inspired by the example of Adam Beck, who had nationalized much of the electric sector in Ontario 20 years earlier, local politicians, such as Philippe Hamel and Télesphore-Damien Bouchard, strongly advocated moving Quebec towards a similar system. Soon after being elected Premier of Quebec in 1939, Adélard Godbout warmed to the concept of a state-owned utility. Godbout was outraged by the inefficient power system dominated by Anglo-Canadian economic interests and the collusion between the Montreal Light, Heat & Power (MLH&P) and the Shawinigan Water & Power Company, the two main companies involved. At one point, he even called the duopoly an "economic dictatorship, crooked and vicious".[14]

The two-step takeover

Montreal and the North Shore

In the fall of 1943, the Godbout government tabled a bill to take control of MLH&P, the company running the gas and electric distribution in and around Montreal, Quebec's largest city. On April 14, 1944, the Quebec Legislative Assembly passed Bill 17, creating a publicly owned commercial venture, the Quebec Hydroelectric Commission, commonly referred to as Hydro-Québec. The act granted the new Crown corporation an electric and gas distribution monopoly in the Montreal area and mandated Hydro-Québec to serve its customers "at the lowest rates consistent with a sound financial management",[15] to restore the substandard electric grid and to speed up rural electrification in areas with no or limited electric service.[14]

MLH&P was taken over the next day, April 15, 1944. The new management quickly realized that it would need to rapidly increase the company's 600-MW generation capacity in the next few years in order to meet growing demand. By 1948, Hydro-Québec had started the expansion of the Beauharnois generating station.[16] It then set its eyes on the Bersimis river, near Forestville, on the North Shore of the Saint Lawrence River. Located 700 kilometres (430 mi) east of Montreal, the Bersimis-1 and Bersimis-2 generating stations were built between 1953 and 1959 and were widely considered to be a bench trial for the fledgling company. They also offered a preview of the large developments that occurred over the next three decades in Northern Quebec.[17][18]

Other construction projects started in the Maurice Duplessis era included a second upgrade of the Beauharnois project and the construction of the Carillon generating station on the Ottawa River.[19] Between 1944 and 1962, Hydro-Québec's installed capacity increased sixfold, from 616 to 3,661 MW.[20]

Quiet Revolution

Hydro-Québec's old logo: the red, blue and yellow coat of arms of Quebec surmounted by a beaver and featuring the words HYDRO-QUEBEC in bold and two bolts of lightning.
Hydro-Québec's first logo (1944-1964).
Bronze bust of a head and a plaque at a downtown street corner.
Bust of René Lévesque, in front of the Hydro-Québec building in Montreal.

The onset of the Quiet Revolution in 1960 did not stop the construction of new dams. On the contrary, it brought a new momentum to the company's development under the tutelage of a young and energetic Hydraulic Resources minister. René Lévesque, a 38-year-old former television reporter and a bona fide star of the new Lesage government, was appointed to the Hydro-Québec portfolio as part of the liberal Premier's "Dream Team" (French: "équipe du tonnerre"). Lévesque quickly approved continuation of the ongoing construction work and put together a team to nationalize the 11 remaining private companies that still controlled a substantial share of the electricity generation and distribution business in Quebec.

On February 12, 1962, Lévesque started his public campaign for nationalization. In a speech to the Quebec Electric Industry Association he bluntly called the whole electric business an "unbelievably costly mess".[21] The minister then toured the province in order to reassure the population and refute the arguments of the Shawinigan Water & Power Company, the main opponent of the proposed takeover.[22] On September 4 and 5, 1962, Lévesque finally convinced his liberal cabinet colleagues to go ahead with the plan during a working retreat at a fishing camp north of Quebec City. The issue topped the liberal agenda during a snap election called two years early, and their chosen theme, "Maîtres chez nous" (in English: "Masters of our domain."), had a strong nationalist undertone.[23]

The Lesage government was reelected on November 14, 1962 and Lévesque went ahead with the plan. On Friday, December 28, 1962 at 6 pm, Hydro-Québec launched an hostile takeover, offering to buy all of the stock in 11 companies at a set price, slightly above market value. After hedging their bets for a few weeks, management of the firms advised their shareholders to accept the C$604 million government offer.[24] In addition to buying the 11 companies, most electric co-operatives and municipally-owned utilities were also taken over and merged with the existing Hydro-Québec operations, which became the largest electric company in Quebec on May 1, 1963.[25]

The 1960s and 1970s

A big concrete structure.
The Jean-Lesage generating station, formerly known as Manic-2, built between 1961 and 1965.

Following the 1963 takeover, Hydro-Québec had to deal with three problems simultaneously. It first had to reorganize in order to seamlessly merge the new subsidiaries into the existing structure, while standardizing dozens of networks in various state of disrepair and upgrading large parts of the Abitibi system from 25 to 60 hertz.[26][27] All of this had to be done while the construction of a massive hydroelectric complex was underway on the North Shore.

The current company logo of Hydro-Québec was designed by Montreal-based design agency Gagnon/Valkus, Inc. in 1960.[28]


By 1959, thousands of workers were building the Manic-Outardes project, a 7-dam hydroelectric complex, including the 1,314-metre (4,311 ft) wide Daniel-Johnson Dam, the largest of its kind in the world. Construction on the Manicouagan and Outardes rivers was completed in 1978 with the inauguration of the Outardes-2 generating station.[29]

These large projects raised a new problem that occupied company engineers for a few years: the transmission of the large amounts of power produced by generating stations located 700 kilometres away from the urban centers in southern Quebec in an economical fashion.[30] A young engineer named Jean-Jacques Archambault drafted a plan to build 735 kV power lines, a much higher voltage than what was used at the time. Archambault persisted and managed to convince his colleagues and major equipment suppliers of the viability of his plan. The first 735 kV power line was put into commercial service on November 29, 1965.[31]

Churchill Falls

When it bought the Shawinigan Water & Power Company and some of its subsidiaries in 1963, Hydro-Québec acquired a 20% share of a planned hydroelectric facility at Hamilton Falls[note 1] in Labrador, a project led by a consortium of banks and industrialists, the British Newfoundland Corporation Limited (Brinco). After years of hard bargaining, the parties reached a deal on May 12, 1969 to finance the construction of the power plant.[32]

The agreement[33] committed Hydro-Québec to buy most of the plant's output at one-quarter of a cent per kWh — the exact rate is 0.25425 cents per kWh until 2016 and 0.20 cents for the last 25 years of the contract[34] —, and to enter into a risk-sharing agreement. Hydro-Québec would cover part of the interest risk and buy some of Brinco's debt, in exchange for a 34.2% share in the company owning the plant, the Churchill Falls (Labrador) Corporation Limited.[32][35] The 5,428-MW Churchill Falls generating station delivered its first kilowatts on December 6, 1971.[36] Its 11 turbines were fully operational by June 1974.

In Newfoundland, Joey Smallwood's liberals were replaced in 1972 by a conservative administration led by Frank Moores. Unhappy with the terms of the agreement in the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis, the Newfoundland government bought all of the shares in the Churchill Falls company that were not held by Hydro-Québec for C$160 million in June 1974.[32][37]

Newfoundland then asked to reopen the contract, a demand refused by Hydro-Québec. After a protracted legal battle between the two neighboring provinces, the contract's validity was twice affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1984 and 1988.[38][39]

James Bay Project

A giant staircase dug in solid rock in the wilderness.
The spillway at the Robert-Bourassa generating station can deal with a water flow twice as large as the Saint Lawrence River.[40] Inaugurated in 1979 the 5,616 MW generating station was at the heart of a network of 8 hydroelectric stations known as the James Bay Project.

Almost a year to the day after his April 1970 election, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa launched a project which he hoped would help him fulfill a campaign promise to create 100,000 new jobs. On April 30, 1971, in front of a gathering of loyal liberal supporters, he announced plans for the construction of a 10,000-MW hydroelectric complex in the James Bay area.[41] After assessing three possible options, Hydro-Québec and the government chose to build three new dams on La Grande River, named LG-2, LG-3 and LG-4.[42]

On top of the technical and logistical challenges posed by a public works project of this scope in a harsh and remote setting, the man in charge, Société d'énergie de la Baie James president Robert A. Boyd, had to face the opposition of the 5,000 native Cree residents living in the area, who had grave concerns about the project's impact on their traditional lifestyle. In November 1973, the Crees got an injunction that temporarily stopped the construction of the basic infrastructure needed to build the dams, forcing the Bourassa government to negotiate with them.[43]

After two years of difficult negotiations, the Quebec and Canadian governments, Hydro-Québec, the Société d'énergie de la Baie James and the Grand Council of the Crees signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement on November 11, 1975. The agreement granted the Crees financial compensation and the management of health and education services in their communities in exchange for the continuation of the project.[44]

Between 14,000 and 18,000 tradesmen were employed on various James Bay construction sites in the period stretching from 1977 to 1981.[45] Inaugurated on October 27, 1979,[46] the LG-2 generating station, an underground powerhouse with a peak capacity of 5,616 MW is the most powerful of its kind in the world. The station, the dam and the associated reservoir were renamed in honor of Premier Bourassa two weeks after his death in October 1996.[47] The construction of the first phase of the project was completed with the commissioning of LG-3 in 1982 and of LG-4 on May 27, 1984.[48][49][50] A second phase of the project was built between 1987 and 1996, adding five more power plants — the LG-1 (1,436 MW), LG-2-A (2,106 MW), Laforge-1 (878 MW), Laforge-2 (319 MW) and Brisay (469 MW) generating stations — to the complex.[51]

The 1980s and 1990s

After two consecutive decades of sustained growth, the late 1980s and the 1990s were much more difficult for Hydro-Québec. With the new James Bay capacity coming on stream at a time of slower growth, the company had to move from a "builder" to a "seller" of electricity. In the early 1980s, a new management team led by Guy Coulombe was brought in to implement a tough restructuring and rationalizing agenda, lowering morale and raising tensions in the ranks.[52]

Things were not much better on the environmental front. A new hydroelectric development and the construction of a direct current high voltage line built to export power to New England faced strong opposition from the Crees as well as environmental groups from the United States and Canada. In order to export power from the James Bay Project to New England, Hydro-Québec planned the construction of a 1,200-kilometre (750 mi) long direct current power line, with a capacity of 2,000 MW, the so-called "Réseau multiterminal à courant continu" (English: Direct Current Multiterminal Network). Construction work on the line went without a problem with the exception of where the power line had to cross the Saint Lawrence River, between Grondines and Lotbinière.[53]

Facing strong opposition from local residents to other options, Hydro-Québec built a 4 km (2.5 mi) tunnel under the river, at a cost of C$144 million,[54] which delayed the project completion by two and a half years. The line was finally commissioned on November 1, 1992.[53][55]

Great Whale Project

Two men rowing in a canoe.
The Crees from Northern Quebec strongly opposed the Great Whale Project in the early 1990s.

Hydro-Québec and the Bourassa government had a much harder time circumventing the next hurdle in northern Quebec. Robert Bourassa was reelected in late 1985 after a 9-year hiatus. Shortly after taking office he announced yet another hydro development in the James Bay area. The C$12.6 billion Great Whale Project involved the construction of three new generating stations with a combined capacity of 3,160 MW. It was to produce 16.3 TWh of energy each year by the time it was completed in 1998–1999.[56]

The plan immediately proved controversial. As they had in 1973, the Cree people opposed the project and filed lawsuits against Hydro-Québec in Quebec and Canada to prevent its construction, and also took action in many U.S. states to prevent sales of the electricity there.[57][58]

Two months after the 1994 general election, the new Premier, Jacques Parizeau, announced the suspension of the Great Whale Project, declaring it unnecessary in order to meet Quebec's energy needs.[59]

Fire and ice

A flame erupts from red sphere.
A solar eruption caused a province-wide blackout, on March 13, 1989.

During the same period, Hydro-Québec had to deal with three major disruptions to its electric transmission system that were primarily caused by natural disasters. The incidents highlighted a major weakness of Hydro's system: the great distances between the generation facilities and the main markets of southern Quebec.[60]

On April 18, 1988 at 2:05 am, all of Quebec and parts of New England and New Brunswick lost power because of an equipment failure at a critical substation on the North Shore, between Churchill Falls and the Manicouagan area.[61] The blackout, which lasted for up to 8 hours in some areas, was caused by ice deposits on transformation equipment at the Arnaud substation.[62]

Less than a year later, on March 13, 1989 at 2:44 am, a large geomagnetic storm caused variations in the earth's magnetic field, tripping circuit breakers on the transmission network. The James Bay network went offline in less than 90 seconds, giving Quebec its second blackout in 11 months.[63] The power failure lasted 9 hours,[64] and forced Hydro-Québec to implement a program to reduce the risks associated with geomagnetically induced currents.[65]

1998 ice storm

Barren tree branches covered with a thick coat of ice.
The North American ice storm of January 1998 left 1.4 million Hydro-Québec customers in the dark for up to five weeks.

In January 1998, five consecutive days of heavy freezing rain caused the largest power failure in Hydro-Québec's history. The weight of the ice collapsed 600 kilometres (370 mi) of high voltage power lines and over 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) of medium and low voltage distribution lines in southern Quebec. Up to 1.4 million Hydro-Québec customers were forced to live without power for up to five weeks.[66]

While Montreal was plunged in darkness, the Hydro-Quebec symbol was still lit up. Part of the Montérégie region, south of Montreal, was the worst hit area and became known as the Triangle of Darkness (French: Triangle noir) by the media and the local population. Ice accumulation exceeded 100 mm (4 in) in some locations.[67] Customers on the Island of Montreal and in the Outaouais region were also hit by the power outage, causing significant concerns since many Quebec households use electricity for heating. Hydro-Québec immediately mobilized more than 10,000 workers to rebuild a significant portion of the southern Quebec grid.[68] At the height of the crisis, on January 9, 1998, the island of Montreal was fed by a single power line. The situation was so dire the Quebec government temporarily resorted to rolling blackouts in downtown Montreal in order to maintain the city's drinking water supply.[68]

Electric service was fully restored on February 7, 1998. The storm cost Hydro-Québec C$725 million in 1998[66] and over C$1 billion was invested in the following decade to strengthen the power grid against similar events.[69] However, part of the operation needed to close the 735 kV loop around Montreal that was approved at the height of the crisis without a prior environmental impact assessment quickly ran into opposition. Eastern Townships residents went to court to quash the order in council authorizing the power line.[70] Construction work resumed after the National Assembly passed a law[71] retroactively approving the work done in the immediate aftermath of the ice storm, but it also required public hearings on the remaining projects.[70] Construction of the Hertel-Des Cantons high voltage line was properly approved in July 2002 and commissioned a year later.[72]

The 2000s

Suroît controversy

The moratorium on new hydro projects in northern Quebec after the Great Whale cancellation forced the company's management to develop new sources of electricity to meet increasing demand. In September 2001, Hydro-Québec announced its intention to build a new combined cycle gas turbine plant — the Centrale du Suroît plant — in Beauharnois, southwest of Montreal, stressing the pressing need to secure additional electricity supply to mitigate the effects of any shortfall in the water cycle of its reservoirs.[73] Hydro's rationale also stressed the cost-effectiveness of the plant and the fact that it could be built within a two year period.[74]

The announcement came at a bad time since attention was drawn to the ratification by Canada of the Kyoto Protocol. With estimated emissions levels of 2.25 Mt of carbon dioxide per year, the Suroît plant would have increased the provincial CO2 emissions by nearly 3%.[74] Faced with a public uproar—a poll conducted in January 2004 found that ca. 65% Quebecers were opposed to it[74]—the Jean Charest government abandoned the project in November 2004.[75]

New hydroelectric developments

Map of the Eastmain watershed
the Rupert River diversion will channel part of the natural flow of the river (orange on the map) to the Robert-Bourassa Reservoir.

After a pause in the 1990s, Hydro-Québec restarted its construction activities in the early 2000s. Recent projects include the Sainte-Marguerite-3 (SM-3) station in 2004 (884 MW); Toulnustouc in 2005 (526 MW); Eastmain-1 in 2007 (480 MW);[76] Peribonka (385 MW)[77] and Mercier in 2008 (50.5 MW), Rapides-des-Cœurs (76 MW) and Chute-Allard (62 MW) in 2009.[78]

On February 7, 2002, Premier Bernard Landry and Ted Moses, the head of the Grand Council of the Crees, signed an agreement allowing the construction of new hydroelectric projects in northern Quebec. The Paix des Braves agreement clarified some provisions of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, granted a C$4.5 billion compensation to the Cree Nation to be paid over a 50 year period, established a special wildlife and forestry regime, and gave assurances that Cree businesses and workers would get a share of the economic spin offs of future construction projects in the area.[79]

In return, the Cree nation agreed not to challenge new construction projects in the area, such as the Eastmain-1 generating station—authorized by the government in March 1993[80]—and the partial diversion of the Rupert River to the Robert-Bourassa Reservoir, subject to a number of provisions regarding the protection of the natural and social environment.[81]

Construction on the first 480-MW plant started in the spring of 2002 with a road linking the project site to the Nemiscau substation 80 kilometres (50 mi) away. In addition to the plant, built on the left bank of the Eastmain River, the project required the construction of a 890-metre (2,920 ft) wide and 70-metre (230 ft) tall dam, 33 smaller dams and a spillway. The three generating units of Eastmain-1 entered into service in the spring of 2007. The plant has an annual output of 2.7 TWh.[82]

These projects are part of Quebec's 2006–2015 energy strategy. The document calls for the development of 4,500 MW of new hydroelectric generation, including the development of the 1,550 MW Romaine River complex, under construction since May 2009,[83] the integration 4,000 MW of wind power, increased electricity exports and the implementation of new energy efficiency programs.[84]

2004 hydro tower bombing

In 2004, shortly before U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Canada, a tower along the Quebec – New England Transmission circuit in the Eastern Townships near the Canada-U.S. border was damaged by explosive charges detonated at its base. The CBC reported that a message, purportedly from the Résistance internationaliste and issued to the La Presse and Le Journal de Montréal newspapers and the CKAC radio station, stated that the attack had been carried out to "denounce the 'pillaging' of Quebec's resources by the United States."[85][86]

Failed expansion in the Maritime provinces

On October 29, 2009, the premiers of New Brunswick, Shawn Graham, and Quebec, Jean Charest, signed a controversial[87] memorandum of understanding[88] to transfer most assets of NB Power to Hydro-Québec. The C$4.75 billion agreement would have transferred most generation, transmission and distribution assets of the New Brunswick Crown corporation to a subsidiary of the Quebec utility. The deal also included provisions to reduce industrial power rates to the levels offered by Hydro-Québec for similar customers and a 5-year rate freeze on residential and commercial rates.[89]

The deal proved hugely unpopular in New Brunswick[90] and the two provinces revised the scope of the sale to the hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.[91] Under the second agreement, transmission and distribution assets would have been kept under New Brunswick control and a long-term power purchase agreement with Hydro-Québec would have allowed NB Power to freeze residential and general customers rates for 5 years. However, the industrial rates rollback would have been smaller than under the original MOU.[92] The second deal failed to quell the growing opposition to the plan and on March 24, 2010, Premier Graham announced the deal had fallen through, due to Hydro-Québec's concern over unanticipated risks and costs of some aspects such as dam security and water levels.[93]

Corporate structure and financial results

Corporate structure

Map of Quebec showing the location of power stations and 450 kV and 735 kV power lines.
Hydro-Québec generation and main transmission network, as of 2008.

Like its counterparts in the North American utility industry, Hydro-Québec was reorganized in the late 1990s to comply with electricity deregulation in the United States. While still a vertically integrated company, Hydro-Québec has created separate business units dealing with the generation, transmission and distribution aspects of the business.

The transmission division, TransÉnergie, was the first to be spun off in 1997, in response to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's publication of Order 888.[94] The restructuring was completed in the year 2000 with the adoption of Bill 116, which amended the Act respecting the Régie de l'énergie,[95] to enact the functional separation of Hydro-Québec's various business units.

This functional separation and the creation of a so-called "heritage pool" (French: volume patrimonial) of electricity echoed a recommendation of a Merrill Lynch study commissioned by the Lucien Bouchard government. The January 2000 report was aimed at finding a way to deregulate the electricity market in a way that was consistent with continental trends while maintaining the "Quebec social pact"; namely low, uniform and stable rates across the province, "particularly in the residential sector".[96]

Legislation passed in 2000 commits the generation division, Hydro-Québec Production, to provide the distribution division, Hydro-Québec Distribution, a yearly heritage pool of up to 165 TWh of energy plus ancillary services—including an extra 13.9 TWh for losses and a guaranteed peak capacity of 34,342 MW[97]—at a set price of 2.79¢ per kWh. Order in council 1277-2001 specifies quantities to be delivered for each of the 8,760 hourly intervals, which vary from 11,420 to 34,342 MW.[98]

Hydro-Québec Distribution has to buy the remainder of the power and energy it needs—approximately 8.2 TWh in 2007[99] — by calling for tenders for long-term contracts open to all suppliers, including Hydro-Québec Production, or targeted towards suppliers of a particular energy source, like wind, gas power, biomass or small hydro.[100] For instance, Hydro-Québec Distribution launched calls for tenders in 2003 and 2005, for 1,000 and 2,000 MW of wind power respectively. Early deliveries started in 2006 and the 23 wind farms under contract should be completely on-line by December 2015.[101]

The TransÉnergie and distribution divisions remain regulated by the Régie de l'énergie du Québec (Quebec energy board), an administrative tribunal established to set retail rates for electricity and natural gas for residential, commercial and industrial service in the province based on a cost-of-service approach. The Régie also has extended powers, including approval authority over every transmission and distribution-related capital expenditure project exceeding C$10 million; approval of the terms of service and of long-term supply contracts; dealing with customer complaints; and the setting and enforcement of safety and reliability standards for the electric grid.[102]

The Generation division, Hydro-Québec Production is not subject to regulation by the Régie. However, it must still submit every new construction project to a full environmental impact process, including the release of extensive environmental studies. The release of the studies are followed by a public hearing process conducted by the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement.

Hydro-Québec employed 23,659 people in 2009,[3] including 2,060 engineers, making the company the largest employer of engineers in Quebec.[103]

Financial results

Financial performance 1999-2009 (as of December 31)
Millions of C$[104][105][106]
2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999
Revenue 12,334 12,717 12,330 11,161 10,887 10,341 10,197 13,002 12,578 11,429 9,608
Net income 3,035 3,141 2,907 3,741 2,252 2,435 1,938 1,526 1,108 1,078 906
Dividends declared 2,168 2,252 2,095 2,342 1,126 1,350 965 763 554 539 453
Total assets 68,978 66,774 64,852 63,254 60,431 58,072 57,823 59,078 59,861 59,038 56,808
Long-term debt 38,002 36,415 34,534 34,427 33,007 33,401 35,550 36,699 37,269 34,965 36,016
Equity 22,395 22,062 20,892 18,840 17,376 16,220 15,128 14,208 13,473 14,280 13,741

For the year ending on December 31, 2009, Hydro-Québec posted net earnings of C$3.035 billion, down 3.0% over the previous year, despite adverse economic conditions.[107] Revenue declined 3.4% in 2009 to C$12.334 billion, while expenditures amounted to C$6.9 billion, down by C$360 million from 2008, mainly due to lower fuel and electricity purchases and the gradual phaseout of Quebec's capital tax.[108]

The company has assets of C$68.978 billion, C$57.760 billion of which are tangible assets. Its long-term debt stood at C$38.002 billion, and the company reported a capitalization rate of 37.0% in 2009.[109] Bonds issued by Hydro-Québec are backed by the Quebec government. On December 31, 2009, long-term securities of Hydro-Québec were rated Aa2 stable by Moody's, AA- positive by Fitch Ratings and A+ by Standard & Poor's.[110]

In 2009, Hydro-Québec paid a C$2.168 billion dividend to its sole shareholder, the Government of Quebec. Between 2005 and 2009, the company paid a total of C$10 billion in dividends.[108]

Privatization debate

Montreal skyline at night with the Hydro-Québec Building in the center.
The Hydro-Québec Building is a landmark of Montreal's downtown.

In 1981, the Parti Québécois government redefined Hydro-Québec's mission by modifying the terms of the social pact of 1944. The government issued itself 43,741,090 shares worth C$100 each,[111] and the amended statute stated that Hydro-Québec would now pay up to 75% of its net earnings in dividends.[112] This amendment to the Hydro-Québec Act started an episodic debate on whether Hydro-Québec should be fully or partially privatized. In recent years, economist Marcel Boyer and businessman Claude Garcia—both associated with the conservative think tank The Montreal Economic Institute—have often raised the issue, claiming that the company could be better managed by the private sector and that the proceeds from a sale would lower public debt.[113][114]

Without going as far as Boyer and Garcia, Mario Dumont, the head of the Action démocratique du Québec, briefly discussed the possibility of selling a minority stake of Hydro-Québec during the 2008 election campaign.[115] A Léger Marketing poll conducted in November 2008 found that a majority of Quebec respondents (53%) were opposed to his proposal to sell 7.5% of the company's equity to Quebec citizens and businesses, while 38% were in favor.[116]

Commenting on the issue on Guy A. Lepage's talk show, former PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau estimated that such an idea would be quite unpopular in public opinion, adding that Hydro-Québec is often seen by Quebecers as a national success story and a source of pride.[117] This could explain why various privatization proposals in the past have received little public attention. The liberal government has repeatedly stated that Hydro-Québec is not for sale.[118]

Like many other economists,[119][120] Yvan Allaire, from Montreal's Hautes études commerciales business school, advocate increased electricity rates as a way to increase the government's annual dividend without resorting to privatization.[121] Others, like columnist Bertrand Tremblay of Saguenay's Le Quotidien, claim that privatization would signal a drift to the days when Quebec's natural resources were sold in bulk to foreigners at ridiculously low prices. "For too long, Tremblay writes, Quebec was somewhat of a banana republic, almost giving away its forestry and water resources. In turn, those foreign interests were exporting our jobs associated with the development of our natural resources with the complicity of local vultures".[122]

Left-wing academics, such as UQAM's Léo-Paul Lauzon and Gabriel Sainte-Marie, have claimed that privatization would be done at the expense of residential customers, who would pay much higher rates. They say that privatization would also be a betrayal of the social pact between the people and its government, and that the province would be short-selling itself by divesting of a choice asset for a minimal short term gain.[123][124]


Power generation

A large concrete dam with multiple arches
The Daniel-Johnson Dam on the Manicouagan River, supplying the Manic-5 hydro plant.
A diagram showing the source of the electricity supply. Hydroelectric power account for 92.33%, followed by Thermal (3.63%), Nuclear (2.97%) and Others (1.07%).
Hydro-Québec energy supply by source (2007).[125]

On December 31, 2009, Hydro-Québec Production owned and operated 59 hydro plants—including 12 of over a 1,000 MW capacity—and 26 major reservoirs.[126] These facilities are located in 13 of Quebec's 430 watersheds,[127] including the Saint Lawrence, Betsiamites, La Grande, Manicouagan, Ottawa, Outardes, and Saint-Maurice rivers.[128] These plants provide the bulk of electricity generated and sold by the company.

Non-hydro plants include the baseload 675-MW gross Gentilly nuclear generating station, a CANDU-design reactor, one thermal and three gas turbine peaker plants and an experimental 2-MW wind farm, for a total installed capacity of 36,810 MW in 2009.[129] Hydro-Québec's average generation cost was 2.0 cents per kWh in 2009.[130]

The company also purchases the bulk of the output of the 5,428-MW Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador, under a long term contract expiring in 2041.[131] In 2009, Hydro-Québec bought the 60% stake owned by AbitibiBowater in the McCormick plant (335 MW), located at the mouth of the Manicouagan River near Baie-Comeau, for C$616 million.[130]

Hydro-Québec main power plants (2009)[51][129]
Plant River Capacity (MW)
Robert-Bourassa La Grande 5,616
La Grande-4 La Grande 2,779
La Grande-3 La Grande 2,417
La Grande-2-A La Grande 2,106
Beauharnois Saint Lawrence 1,903
Manic-5 Manicouagan 1,596
La Grande-1 La Grande 1,436
René-Lévesque Manicouagan 1,244
Bersimis-1 Betsiamites 1,178
Jean-Lesage Manicouagan 1,145
Manic-5-PA Manicouagan 1,064
Outardes-3 aux Outardes 1,026
Others (46 hydro, 1 nuclear, 4 thermal, 1 wind farm) 12,941

In 2008, the energy supply sold by Hydro-Québec to its customers came primarily from hydroelectric sources (95.8%). Emissions of carbon dioxide (7,263 tonnes/TWh), sulfur dioxide (19 tonnes/TWh) and nitrogen oxides (29 tonnes/TWh) were between 20 and 43 times lower than the industry average in northeastern North America. Imported electricity bought in neighboring markets was responsible for almost all of these emissions.[125]

Transmission system

Power lines reach a hub in a densely forested area. A road going downhill leads to a forest of metal pylons.
The Micoua substation on the North Shore of Quebec. This facility converts 315 kV power coming from five hydro plant to 735 kV. This TransÉnergie facility is one of the main nodes of the 11,422-kilometre (7,097 mi) long 735 kV network.

Hydro-Québec's expertise at building and operating a very high voltage electrical grid spreading over long distances has long been recognized in the electrical industry.[132][133] TransÉnergie, Hydro-Québec's transmission division, operates the largest electricity transmission network in North America. It acts as the independent system operator and reliability coordinator for the Québec interconnection of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation system, and is part of the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC). TransÉnergie manages the flow of energy on the Quebec network and ensures non-discriminatory access to all participants involved in the wholesale market.[134] The non-discriminatory access policy allows a company such as Nalcor to sell some of its share of power from Churchill Falls on the open market in the State of New York using TransÉnergie's network, upon payment of a transmission fee.[135][136]

In recent years, TransÉnergie's Contrôle des mouvements d'énergie (CMÉ) unit has been acting as the reliability coordinator of the bulk electricity network for Quebec as a whole, under a bilateral agreement between the Régie de l'énergie du Québec and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of the United States.[137]

TransÉnergie's high voltage network stretches over 33,244 km (20,657 mi), including 11,422 km (7,097 mi) of 765 and 735 kV lines, and a network of 515 substations.[138] It is connected to neighboring Canadian provinces and the United States by 18 ties, with a maximum reception capacity of 9,575 MW[note 2] and a maximum transmission capacity of 7,100 MW.[139]


A yellow-tinted room with wires and other metallic structures.
A rectifier at the Outaouais substation, located in L'Ange-Gardien. The 1,250 MW back-to-back HVDC tie links the Quebec grid with Ontario's Hydro One network.

The TransÉnergie's network operates asynchronously from that of its neighbors on the Eastern Interconnection. Although Quebec uses the same 60 hertz frequency as the rest of North America, its grid does not use the same phase as surrounding networks.[140] TransÉnergie mainly relies on back to back HVDC converters to export or import electricity from other jurisdictions.

This feature of the Quebec network allowed Hydro-Québec to remain unscathed during the Northeast Blackout of August 14, 2003, with the exception of 5 hydro plants on the Ottawa River directly connected to the Ontario grid at the time.[141] A new 1250-MW back to back HVDC tie has been commissioned at the Outaouais substation, in L'Ange-Gardien, near the Ontario border. The new interconnection has been online since 2009 and the 315 kV line will be fully operational in 2010.[140]

One drawback of the TransÉnergie network involves the long distances separating the generation sites and the main consumer markets. For instance, the Radisson substation links the James Bay project plants to the Nicolet station near Sainte-Eulalie, south of the Saint Lawrence, over 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) away.[142]


In 2009, TransÉnergie invested C$1.2 billion in capital expenditures, including C$493 million to expand its network.[143]

In addition to the new tie with Ontario, the company plans to build a new 1200-MW direct current link between the Des Cantons substation at Windsor, Quebec in Quebec's Eastern Townships and Deerfield, New Hampshire, with an HVDC converter terminal built at Franklin, New Hampshire.[144] The US segment of the US$1.1 billion line,[145] would be built by Northern Pass Transmission LLC, a partnership between Northeast Utilities (75%) and NSTAR (25%).[146] In order to go ahead, the project must receive regulatory approval in Quebec and the United States. The proposed transmission line could be in operation in 2015.[147] According to Jim Robb, a senior executive from Northeast Utilities, New England could meet one third of its Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative commitments with the hydropower coming through this new power line alone.[148]


A man with a hard hat helps a machinery operator lower a transformer to an underground pit in a residential neighborhood. The roads and cars are covered with snow.
An Hydro-Québec employee carries out the replacement of an underground transformer in Montreal.

Hydro-Québec Distribution is in charge of retail sales to most customers in Quebec. It operates a network of 111,205 kilometres (69,100 mi) of medium and low voltage lines.[149] The division is the sole electric distributor across the province, with the exception of 9 municipal distribution networks — in Alma, Amos, Baie-Comeau, Coaticook, Joliette, Magog, Saguenay, Sherbrooke and Westmount—and the electric cooperative of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Rouville.[150]

Hydro-Québec Distribution buys most of its power from the 165-TWh heritage pool provided by Hydro-Québec Production at 2.79¢/kWh. The division usually purchases additional power by entering into long-term contracts after a public call for tenders. For shorter term needs, it also buys power from the neighboring systems at market prices. As a last resort, Hydro-Québec Production can also provide short-term relief.[105] Supply contracts above and beyond the heritage pool must be approved by the Régie de l'énergie du Québec and their costs are passed on to customers.

The division signed one natural gas cogeneration agreement for 507 MW in 2003, three forest biomass deals (47.5 MW) in 2004 and 2005, and ten contracts for wind power (2,994 MW) in 2005 and 2008, all with private sector producers. It also signed two flexible contracts with Hydro-Québec Production (600 MW) in 2002.[151]

Hydro-Québec Distribution is also responsible for the production of power in remote communities not connected to the main power grid. The division operates an off-grid hydroelectric dam serving communities on the Lower North Shore and 23 small diesel power plants in the Magdalen Islands, in Haute-Mauricie and in Nunavik.

Other activities

Research and development

A demonstration car with an electric engine is shown as an exhibit.
The TM4 electric engine was developed by Hydro-Québec.
A small curved car at an automobile show.
A Hydro-Quebec Mitsubishi i MiEV vehicle from the 2011 Montreal International Auto Show.

Hydro-Québec has made significant investments in research and development over the past 40 years. In addition to funding university research, the company is the only electric utility in North America to operate its own large scale research institute, L'Institut de recherche d'Hydro-Québec (IREQ). Established by Lionel Boulet in 1967, the research center is located in Varennes, a suburb on the South Shore of Montreal.[152] IREQ operates on an annual research budget of approximately C$100 million[153] and specializes in the areas of high voltage, mechanics and thermomechanics, network simulations and calibration.[154]

Research conducted by scientists and engineers at IREQ has helped to extend the life of dams, improve water turbine performance, automate network management and increase the transmission capacity of high voltage power lines.[155]

Another research center, the Laboratoire des technologies de l'énergie (LTE) in Shawinigan, was opened in 1988[156] to adapt and develop new products while helping industrial customers improve their energy efficiency.[157]

In the last 20 years, the institute has also conducted research and development work towards the electrification of ground transportation. Current projects include battery materials, including innovative work on lithium iron phosphate and nano-titanate,[158] improved electric drive trains and the impacts of the large scale deployment of electric vehicles on the power grid.[159] Projects focus on technologies to increase range, improve performance in cold weather and reduce charging time.[160]

Hydro-Québec has been criticized for not having taken advantage of some of its innovations. An electric wheel motor concept that struck a chord with Quebecers,[161] first prototyped in 1994 by Pierre Couture, an engineer and physicist working at IREQ, is one of these.[162][163] The heir to the Couture wheel motor is now marketed by TM4 Electrodynamic Systems, a spin-off established in 1998[164] that has made deals with France's Dassault and Heuliez to develop an electric car, the Cleanova, of which prototypes were built in 2006.[165] Hydro-Québec announced in early 2009 at the Montreal International Auto Show that its engine had been chosen by Tata Motors to equip a demonstration version of its Indica model, which will be road tested in Norway.[166][167]


An exhibit illustrating the impact of the Manic-Outardes hydroelectric project with a car, a Hergé drawing of Tintin, a paperback, a picture of a man filming an action scene, a videocassette box, a stamp and a sports car.
The construction of large hydro projects in northern Quebec struck a chord in the public imagination during the 1960s and 1970s.

The Hydro-Québec Équipement division acts as the company's main contractor on major construction sites, with the exception of work conducted on the territory covered by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which are assigned to the Société d'énergie de la Baie James subsidiary.

In the James Bay area, two new plants, Eastmain-1-A (768 MW) and Sarcelle (125 MW), and the partial diversion of the Rupert River to the Robert-Bourassa Reservoir, are under construction and should be operating at full power by 2011.[168]

The construction of a complex of four hydroelectric generating stations on the Romaine River (1,550 MW) began on May 13, 2009.[169] The plants are scheduled to be built and commissioned between 2014 and 2020.[170]

In his March 2009 inaugural speech, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced that his government intends to further develop the province's hydroelectric potential.[171] The call for further development of hydroelectric and other renewable generating capacity has been implemented in the company's 2009-2013 strategic plan, released on July 30, 2009. Hydro-Québec plans capacity upgrades at the Jean-Lesage (120 MW) and René-Lévesque (210 MW) stations and a third unit at the SM-3 plant (440 MW). The company will also conduct technical and environmental studies and undertake consultations with local communities to build new facilities on the Petit-Mécatina (1,200 MW) and Magpie (850 MW) rivers on the North Shore, and revive the Tabaret project (132 MW) in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region, in western Quebec.[172]

International ventures

Hydro-Québec first forays outside its borders began in 1978. A new subsidiary, Hydro-Québec International, was created to market the company's know-how abroad in the fields of distribution, generation and transmission of electricity. The new venture leveraged the existing pool of expertise in the parent company.[173]

During the next 25 years, Hydro-Québec was particularly active abroad with investments in electricity transmission networks and generation: Transelec in Chile,[174] the Cross Sound Cable in the United States,[133] the Consorcio Transmantaro in Peru, Hidroelectrica Rio Lajas in Costa Rica, Murraylink in Australia and the Fortuna generating station in Panamá.[175]

It briefly held a 17% share in SENELEC, Senegal's electric utility, when the Senegalese government decided to sell part of the company to a consortium led by the French company Elyo, a subsidiary of Group Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, in 1999.[176] The transaction was canceled in 2000 following the election of president Abdoulaye Wade.[177]

Also in 1999, Hydro-Québec International acquired a 20% stake in the Meiya Power Company in China for C$83 million.[176] The company held this participation until July 2004.[178] The company's expertise was sought by several hydroelectric developers throughout the world, including the Three Gorges Dam, where Hydro's employees trained Chinese engineers in the fields of management, finance and dams.[179]

Hydro-Québec gradually withdrew from the international business between 2003 and 2006, and sold off all of its foreign investments for a profit. Proceeds from these sales were paid to the government's Generations Fund, a trust fund set up by the province to alleviate the impact of public debt on future generations.[180]


A fish.
The northern pike (Esox lucius) is more prevalent today in the Robert-Bourassa Reservoir than it was before the flooding of the reservoir. The increase of this population has been counterbalanced by a decline in the walleye (Stizostedion vitreum) population.[181]

The construction and operation of electric generation, transmission and distribution facilities has environmental impacts and Hydro-Québec's activities are no exception. Hydroelectric development has an impact on the natural environment where facilities are built and on the people living in the area. For instance, the development of new reservoirs increases the level of mercury in lakes and rivers, which works up the food chain.[182] It temporarily increases the emission of greenhouse gases from reservoirs[183] and contributes to shoreline erosion.

In addition, hydroelectric facilities transform the human environment. They create new obstacles to navigation, flood traditional hunting and trapping grounds, force people to change their eating habits due to the elevated mercury content of some species of fish, destroy invaluable artifacts that would help trace the human presence on the territory, and disrupt the society and culture of Aboriginal people living near the facilities.

Since the early 1970s, Hydro-Québec has been aware of the environmental externalities of its operations. The adoption of a Quebec statute on environmental quality in 1972, the cancellation of Champigny Project, a planned pumped storage plant in the Jacques-Cartier River valley in 1973, and the James Bay negotiations leading to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, forced the company to reconsider its practices.[184]

To address environmental concerns, Hydro-Québec established a environmental protection committee in 1970 and an Environmental Management unit in September 1973. Its mandate is to study and measure the environmental impacts of the company, prepare impact assessment, and develop mitigation strategies for new and existing facilities, while conducting research projects in these areas, in cooperation with the scientific community.

Impacts on the natural environment

A herd of Cariboo crossing a remote river.
The caribou population near major reservoirs in northern Quebec has increased between 1970 and 2000.[185]

In 1978, the company setup a network of monitoring stations to measure the impacts of the James Bay Project[184] which provide a wealth of data on northern environments. The first 30 years of studies in the James Bay area have confirmed that mercury levels in fish increase by 3 to 6 times over the first 5 to 10 years after the flooding of a reservoir, but then gradually revert to their initial values after 20 to 30 years. These results confirm similar studies conducted elsewhere in Canada, the United States and Finland.[185] Research also found that it is possible to reduce human exposure to mercury even when fish constitutes a significant part of a population's diet. Exposure risks can be mitigated without overly reducing the consumption of fish, simply by avoiding certain species and fishing spots.[185]

Despite the fact that the transformation of a terrestrial environment into an aquatic environment constitutes a major change and that flooding leads to the displacement or death of nonmigratory animals, the riparian environments lost through flooding are partially replaced by new ones on the exposed banks of reduced-flow rivers. The biological diversity of reservoir islands is comparable to other islands in the area and the reservoir drawdown zone is used by a variety of wildlife. The population of migratory species of interest such as the caribou have even increased to the point where the hunt has been expanded.[186]

Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) rise significantly for a few years after reservoir impoundment, and then stabilize after 10 years to a level similar to that of surrounding lakes.[183] Gross GHG emissions of reservoirs in the James Bay area fluctuate around 30,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per TWh of generated power.[187] Hydro-Québec claims its hydroelectric plants release 35 times less GHG than comparable gas-fired plants and 70 times less than coal-fired ones and that they constitute the "option with the best performance" overall.[183]

Social impacts and sustainable development

A road sign welcoming people to Chisasibi.
Of all Cree communities, Chisasibi was most affected by the James Bay hydroelectric development project[185] Crees living on Fort George island resettled to the new village on the left bank of La Grande River in 1980-1981.

Another major environmental concern relates to the population of areas affected by hydroelectric development, specifically the Innu of the North Shore and the Cree and Inuit in Northern Quebec. The hydroelectric developments of the last quarter of the 20th century have accelerated the settling process among Aboriginal populations that started in the 1950s. Among the reasons cited for the increased adoption of a sedentary lifestyle among these peoples are the establishment of Aboriginal businesses, the introduction of paid labor, and the flooding of traditional trapping and fishing lands by the new reservoirs, along with the operation of social and education services run by the communities themselves under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.[186]

Some native communities, particularly the Crees, have come to a point "where they increasingly resemble the industrialized society of the South", notes an Hydro-Québec report summarizing the research conducted in the area between 1970 and 2000. The report adds that a similar phenomenon was observed after the construction of roads and hydroelectric plants near isolated communities in northern Canada and Scandinavia. However, growing social problems and rising unemployment have followed the end of the large construction projects in the 1990s. The report concludes that future economic and social development in the area "will largely depend on the desire for cooperation among the various players".[186]

After the strong rejection of the Suroît project and its subsequent cancellation in November 2004, Hydro-Québec, under the leadership of its new CEO Thierry Vandal, reaffirmed Hydro-Québec's commitment towards energy efficiency, hydropower and development of alternative energy.[188] Since then, Hydro-Québec regularly stresses three criteria for any new hydroelectric development undertaken by the company: projects must be cost effective, environmentally acceptable and well-received by the communities.[105] Hydro-Québec has also taken part in a series of sustainable development initiatives since the late 1980s. Its approach is based on three principles: economic development, social development and environmental protection.[189] Since 2007 the company adheres to the Global Reporting Initiative,[190] which governs the collection and publication of sustainability performance information. The company employs 250 professionals and managers in the environmental field and has implemented an ISO 14001-certified environmental management system.[191]

Rates and customers

Quebec market

Operating statistics as of December 31, 2008 and 2009[192]
Number of customers Sales in Quebec (GWh) Revenue (C$M) Average annual consumption (kWh)
2009 2008 2009 2008 2009 2008 2009 2008
Residential and farm 3,649,470 3,603,330 62,484 60,747 4,500 4,300 17,230 16,974
General and institutional 297,380 296,504 34,151 35,228 2,662 2,687 115,009 118,209
Industrial 9,829 10,111 63,310 69,144 3,092 3,174 6,350,050 6,379,775
Others 3,653 3,499 5,371 5,278 295 284 1,501,957 1,521,257
Total 3,960,332 3,913,444 165,316 170,397 10,549 10,445
Graph showing the evolution of inflation and Hydro-Québec rates. Inflation raised more rapidly than Hydro-Québec's residential rate between 1998 and 2010.
Evolution of Hydro-Québec residential rates (turquoise) and the Quebec Consumer price index (dark blue) between 1998 and 2010.

At the end of 2010, Hydro-Québec served 4,011,789 customers[3] grouped into three broad categories: residential and farm (D Rate), commercial and institutional (G Rate) and industrial (M and L rates). The Other category includes public lighting systems and municipal distribution systems.

About a dozen distribution rates are set annually by the Régie de l'énergie after public hearings. Pricing is based on the cost of delivery, which includes depreciation on fixed assets and provisions for the maintenance of facilities, customer growth and a profit margin.

Rates are uniform throughout the province and are based on consumer type and volume of consumption. All rates vary in block to mitigate any cross-subsidization effect between residential, commercial and industrial customers.

After a five-year rate freeze, between May 1, 1998 and January 1, 2004,[193] the Régie granted 7 rate increases between 2004 and 2009.[194] However, Hydro-Québec rates are still among the lowest in North America.[195] A few months after obtaining a 0.4% increase for 2010–2011,[196] Hydro-Québec tabled a rate case before the Régie de l'énergie in August, 2010, calling a rate freeze for 2011-2012.[197]

Residential customers

Electronic thermostat showing a temperature of 22°C.
Electric heating accounts for more than half of the electricity used by residential customers in Quebec, according to Hydro-Québec.

The average consumption of residential and agricultural customers is relatively high, at 17,230 kWh per year, because of the widespread use of electric heating (68% of residences).[198] Hydro-Québec estimates that heating accounts for more than one half of the power used in the residential sector.[199]

This preference for electric heating makes electricity demand more unpredictable, but offers some environmental benefits. Despite Quebec's very cold climate in winter, greenhouse gases emissions in the residential sector accounted for only 5.5% (4.65 Mt CO2 eq.) of all emissions in Quebec in 2006. Emissions from the residential sector in Quebec fell by 30% between 1990 and 2006.[200]

Residential use of electricity fluctuates from one year to another, and is strongly correlated with the weather. Contrary to the trend in neighboring networks, Hydro-Québec's system is winter-peaking. A new consumption record was set on January 16, 2009 at 8 am, with a load of 37,230 MW.[201][202] The temperature recorded in Quebec City at the time was −31.8 °C (−25.2 °F).[203] The previous record of 36,268 MW was established on January 15, 2004, during another cold spell.[204]

An old, 1960-style power meter.
A Hydro-Québec electric meter.

The price of electricity for residential and agricultural customers in effect since April 1, 2010, includes a 40.64¢ daily subscription fee, and two price levels depending on consumption The rates are all-included: power, transmission and distribution costs.[205] Customers pay 5.45¢/kWh for the first 30 daily kWh, while the remainder is sold at 7.51¢/kWh.[206] The average monthly bill for a residential customer was approximately C$100 in 2008.[207]

Electric meter readings are usually conducted every two months and bills are bimonthly. However, the company offers an optional Equalized Payment Plan allowing residential customers to pay their annual electricity costs in 12 monthly installments, based on past consumption patterns of the current customer address and the average temperature in that location.[208]

In 2007, Hydro-Québec pulled out of a Canadian government initiative to install smart meters across the province, stating that it would be "too costly to deliver real savings".[209] Since then, Hydro-Québec organized a 2-year pilot project, involving 2,000 customers in 4 cities, with time of use metering. A report, filed with the Régie de l'énergie, in the summer of 2010 concluded that the impact of marginal cost pricing with three levels of pricing in the winter would lead to minimal load and energy savings.[210] The company intends to gradually phase-in Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) between 2011 and 2017. Early efforts will focus on meter data transfer, connect-disconnect, outage detection and theft reduction.[211]

Industrial customers

A large aluminium smelter.
Rio Tinto Alcan's Laterriere smelter in Saguenay. Large industrial users, especially the metallurgy and the pulp and paper industries, use 40.6% of all electricity sold in Quebec.

For more than a century, industrial development in Quebec has been stimulated by the abundance of hydroelectric resources. Energy represents a significant expenditure in the pulp and paper and aluminum sectors. two industries with long-standing traditions in Quebec. In 2009, industrial customers purchased 63.3 TWh from Hydro-Québec, representing 38.3% of all electricity sold by the company on the domestic market.[192]

Large industrial users pay a lower rate than the domestic and commercial customers, because of lower distribution costs. In 2009, the largest industrial users, the Rate L customers, were paying an average of 4.79¢/kWh.[212]

A large paper mill.
The Smurfit-Stone paper mill in La Tuque.

The Quebec government uses low electricity rates to attract new business and consolidate existing jobs. Despite its statutory obligation to sell electric power to every person who so requests, the province has reserved the right to grant large load allocations to companies on a case by case basis since 1974. The threshold was set at 175 MW from 1987 to 2006[213] and was reduced to 50 MW in the government's 2006–2015 energy strategy.[84]

In 1987, Hydro-Québec and the Quebec government agreed to a series of controversial deals with aluminum giants Alcan and Alcoa. These risk sharing contracts set the price of electricity based on a series of factors, including aluminum world prices and the value of the Canadian dollar[214] Those agreements are gradually being replaced by one based on published rates.

On May 10, 2007, the Quebec government signed an agreement with Alcan. The agreement, which is still in force despite the company's merger with Rio Tinto Group, renews the water rights concession on the Saguenay and Peribonka rivers. In exchange, Alcan has agreed to invest in its Quebec facilities and to maintain jobs and its corporate headquarters in Montreal.[215]

On December 19, 2008, Hydro-Québec and Alcoa signed a similar agreement. This agreement, which expires in 2040, maintains the provision of electricity to Alcoa's three aluminum smelters in the province, located in Baie-Comeau, Bécancour and Deschambault-Grondines. In addition, the deal will allow Alcoa to modernize the Baie-Comeau plant which will increase its production capacity by 110,000 tonnes a year, to a total of 548,000 tonnes.[216]

Several economists, including Université Laval's Jean-Thomas Bernard and Gérard Bélanger, have challenged the government's strategy and argue that sales to large industrial customers are very costly to the Quebec economy. In an article published in 2008, the researchers estimate that, under the current regime, a job in a new aluminum smelter or an expansion project costs the province between C$255,357 and C$729,653 a year, when taking into consideration the money that could be made by selling the excess electricity on the New York market.[217]

This argument is disputed by large industrial customers, who point out that data from 2000 to 2006 indicate that electricity exports prices get lower when quantities increase, and vice versa. "We find that the more we export, the less lucrative it gets", said Luc Boulanger, the head of the association representing Quebec's large industrial customers. In his opinion, the high volatility of electricity markets and the transmission infrastructure physical limitations reduce the quantities of electricity that can be exported when prices are higher.[218]

Export markets

Hydro-Québec exports and brokerage activities in Canada and the United States (1999–2009)[105][106][192][219]
2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999
Exports (GWh)[note 3] 23,357 21,299 19,624 14,458 15,342 14,392 15,786 54,199 42,389 36,907 24,230
Revenue ($M) 1,506 1,919 1,617 1,149 1,464 1,084 1,345 3,467 3,082 2,349 1,016
Average revenue ($/MWh) 63.93 90.10 82.40 79.47 95.42 75.32 85.20 63.97 72.71 63.65 41.93
Christmas tree near Boston's Quincy Market.
Part of the electricity used in Boston comes from the remote dams in the James Bay area.

Hydro-Québec sells part of its surplus electricity to neighboring systems in Canada and the United States under long term contracts and transactions on the New England, New York and Ontario bulk energy markets. Two subsidiaries, HQ Energy Marketing and HQ Energy Services (U.S.) are engaged in the electricity trade on behalf of the company. In 2009, Hydro-Québec exported 23.36 TWh of electricity, and the brokerage business generated revenues of C$1.5 billion.[192]

Although most export sales are now short-term transactions, Hydro-Québec has entered into long-term export contracts in the past. In 1990, the company signed a 328-MW deal with a group of 13 electric distributors in Vermont. Exports from Hydro-Québec account for 28% of all power used in the state.[220] On March 11, 2010, Vermont's two largest utilities, Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service, entered into a tentative 26-year deal with Hydro-Québec to purchase up to 225 MW of hydro power from 2012 to 2038. The memorandum of understanding provides for a price smoothing mechanism shielding Vermont customers from market price spikes. The deal is contingent upon the enactment designating large hydro as "renewable energy".[221]

The renewable energy law, H.781,[222] was adopted by both houses of the legislature and signed into law by governor Jim Douglas on June 4, 2010.[223]

A second contract has been signed with Cornwall Electric, a subsidiary of Fortis Inc., a utility serving 23,000 customers in the Cornwall, Ontario area. The contract was renewed in 2008 and will be in force until 2019.[224]

The company has several advantages in its dealings in export markets. First, its costs are not affected by the fluctuations of fossil fuel prices, since hydropower requires no fuel. Also, Hydro-Québec has a lot of flexibility in matching supply and demand, so it can sell electricity at higher prices during the day and replenish its reservoirs at night, when wholesale prices are lower. Third, the Quebec power grid peaks in winter because of heating, unlike most neighboring systems, where peak demand occur on very warm days in the summer, due to the air conditioning needs of homes and offices.[225]

The election of Barack Obama—a supporter of renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions trading and the development of electric cars—as president of the United States in 2008 was seen as a positive development for the company's outlook. Despite the success of the previous policy of short-term sales on neighboring energy markets, the Quebec government asked Hydro-Québec management to write a new strategic plan, focusing on long-term sale agreements with US distributors, as was the case after the commissioning of the James Bay Project.[226] The new plan was released in July 2009.

See also


  1. ^ The falls were renamed to honor the late British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, soon after his passing, in 1965.
  2. ^ This number includes the 5,200-MW Churchill Falls lines, which have no export capability.
  3. ^ Numbers include energy brokerage on the markets. This energy has not necessarily been produced by Hydro-Québec's plants.


  1. ^ Hydro-Québec (5 January 2010). "Senior Management". http://www.hydroquebec.com/publications/en/organization_chart/haute_direction-en.pdf. Retrieved 2010-10-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Hydro-Québec 2011a, p. 2
  3. ^ a b c d Hydro-Québec 2011a, p. 3
  4. ^ Hydro-Québec 2011a, p. 5
  5. ^ Ed Crooks (6 July 2009). "Using Russian hydro to power China". Financial Times. http://blogs.ft.com/energy-source/2009/07/06/using-russian-hydro-to-power-china/. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  6. ^ PennWell (29 October 2009). "Hydro-Quebec agrees to buy NB Power for C$4.75 billion". HydroWorld. http://www.hydroworld.com/index/display/article-display/9416279805/articles/hrhrw/News-2/2009/10/hydro-quebec-agrees.html. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  7. ^ Government of Québec. "Consommation d'énergie par forme" (in French). Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. http://www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/energie/statistiques/statistiques-consommation-forme.jsp. Retrieved 2009-05-09. 
  8. ^ Bolduc, Hogue & Larouche 1989, p. 193
  9. ^ Langford & Debresson 1992
  10. ^ Norrie, Owram & Emery 2008, p. 247
  11. ^ IPCC 2007
  12. ^ Hydro-Québec 2011a, p. 48
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