Nationalising Energy: The Quebec Example

94% of Québec’s electricity generation comes from hydroelectric resources. Québec’s electricity rates are among the lowest in North America.

Government of Quebec

By Robert Leslie

A Quebec energy expert has talked about the challenges and opportunities around the nationalisation of the Canadian province’s energy system – including relatively cheap electricity compared to the UK and consequent lower fuel poverty rates.

Patrick Goulet from Energie Solaire Quebec told Orkney Renewable Energy Forum about his experiences in the energy sector, from hydro to solar, explaining how Quebec had a false start in the late 1930s to mid-1940s, with the purchase in 1944 of the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company by the Liberal Government headed by Adelard Godbout. A new government corporation known as Hydro-Quebec took over the supply of electricity on the island of Montreal.

However, the nationalisation agenda was abandoned by a Conservative government elected later that same year.

That was it until the 1960s, when the Quebec Liberal Party formed the new government. In September 1962 they held a meeting to take a decision on an energy nationalisation plan. They agreed to hold another election to get a mandate for the plan given now expensive it would be.

They won the election and the plan to buy 11 energy companies went ahead. On May 1, 1963, the Government of Quebec acquired the 11 privately owned companies producing and distributing electricity in Quebec and merged them with Hydro-Québec, beginning to unify and modernise the different power networks. It became almost the sole energy producer, with a few exceptions. The total cost of $604 million was finally paid off in 1982.

Mr Goulet described the move as social democracy and said that the benefits it brought were in equality of price, stability, and ability to invest. It has given Quebec a situation where fuel poverty is at 7%, compared to an estimated 44% in Orkney after the April 2022 price cap rise, against a Scottish average of 36%. It has been estimated that 61.5% of Scottish households could be in fuel poverty as a result of the energy price cap hikes of October 2022 and January 2023.

Meanwhile, Mr Goulet gave examples of how the nationalised Hydro Quebec is helping with heat pump conversions in houses, and also looking at AI (Artificial Intelligence) to create affordable smart homes.

Mr Goulet described how hydro remained the main renewable energy in Quebec, with 61 hydro generating stations having a total installed capacity of 37.2 gigawatts. With its 262,000 kilometres of transmission and distribution lines, including 15 cross-border interconnections, Quebec is becoming ‘the battery for Eastern North America’, he said.

Major wind and solar projects have also been developed across Quebec, but one questionable project, according to Mr Goulet, is the plan for the installation of two submarine DC cables and a fibre-optic cable approximately 225km long, with a capacity of 80MW, to connect the Magdalene Islands to the Canadian mainland. This would halt the dependence on oil to provide energy to the residents and businesses of the islands.

With the project first mooted in 2016, the commissioning of the project is now targeted for 2027.

Mr Goulet had shown that two 4MW Enercon wind turbines had been erected on the islands, but appeared to be frustrated that the cable plans had been pushed ahead with rather than an expansion of renewable generation.

He said he had become interested in Orkney’s energy developments as, from a distance, he liked the way Orkney tackled problems and our resilience. He said that everything seemed well co-ordinated, and liked what he saw as the ‘wide collaboration of private, public and the community. He said that it appeared Orkney had moved fast with all the initiatives.

Some of his views were slightly tempered by OREF chairman Neil Kermode, who suggested the reality might not be quite so perfect, although some developments had happened fairly quickly at times over the past decade or so.

While being clear that nationalisation was not perfect, Mr Goulet said that he would choose the nationalisation route on balance every time.

Click on this link for more information about Energy Generation and Supply in Quebec: All sources of energy

A recording of the talk will be available soon on the OREF YouTube Channel

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