Fresh Takes

Electricity: A Right to Refuse That Must Not Become a Veto Power

Hydro-Québec is often seen as a powerful lever for economic development in the province.

In recent years, the talk has been about putting the government monopoly’s surplus of electrical production to work to develop the Quebec economy. And entrepreneurs answered the call, submitting requests to the public corporation for projects totalling some 23,000 megawatts.

Unfortunately for Hydro-Québec, surpluses no longer seem to be in the cards for the foreseeable future. According to its own estimates, it will instead be short some 100 terawatt hours—equivalent to 50% of its current production—to supply the anticipated demand in 2050.

It is in response to this growing demand and these projected shortages compared to its current production capacity that Hydro-Québec is asking the government to give it the authority to refuse a good many projects.

If the legislature approves Hydro-Québec’s requests, the threshold above which the public corporation will be able to refuse an entrepreneur’s project will fall from 50 megawatts—about the consumption of a city like Rouyn-Noranda—to five megawatts—approximately the consumption of a village like Saint-Jean-Port-Joli.

If Hydro-Québec is granted the right to refuse, it will be important not to let this become a veto power on development in Quebec.

Except for a few municipal grids like Joliette, Sherbrooke, and Westmount, Hydro-Québec is the sole supplier of electricity in the province. This means that when Hydro-Québec refuses to supply an entrepreneur’s project, it must be abandoned, or undertaken elsewhere.

This would give an enormous amount of power to the management of the public corporation, amounting to a veto over the development of Quebec and its regions.

To avoid this situation, the government must allow independent electricity providers to emerge. In other words, if the government monopoly cannot satisfy the demand, it’s time to open the electricity sector up to competition. That will provide an alternative for those who want to develop the province but are not favoured by Hydro-Québec.

In short, if someone sees a potential to sell electricity where Hydro-Québec does not, who are we to stand in the way?

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