Is Québec ready to meet its energy needs?
Updated: Sep 17, 2022
Québec is well known as a place where electricity plays a significant role in the energy mix. In fact, the province largely owes the strength of its economy to nationalizing hydropower and making this resource available at low cost to residents and businesses since the 1960s. However, new energy-related challenges are emerging, and the way that Québec’s next government chooses to face them will be pivotal for the province’s future.
With Québec’s economic growth accelerating, many energy-consuming projects are being set up. Whether they are data centres, manufacturing plants, processing plants, mines or hydrogen projects, they will all need a constant and sustained supply of energy. After accounting for the increasing demand from households, transportation networks and building conversions to electricity, and the province’s desire to continue exporting hydropower to the United States, Québec is reaching the limits of its hydroelectric capacity.
Even today, Québec consumes about as much natural gas and oil as hydroelectricity. Whether for transportation or industrial activities, electrification of the province’s energy grid is far from complete. Despite environmental concerns, Québec’s energy needs are still growing. And with the conflict in Ukraine, the price of all energy products is rising rapidly, fuelling runaway inflation. Fortunately, over the past few years, the natural gas and oil consumed in Québec has come almost exclusively from Western Canada and the United States, as opposed to regions of the world with little-to-no regard for human rights. Transportation costs are thankfully also decreasing.
Québec’s next government has three possible solutions for meeting the province’s future energy needs: First, develop new dams and produce more hydropower, since Québec wants to export more of this resource. Second, start generating some of the province’s energy from its own natural gas and oil resources, so that it no longer has to import 100% of these energy products and can free up some of its hydroelectricity capacity for other uses. Third, reduce per capita electricity consumption, which would be nearly impossible if the province is seriously committed to electrifying transportation.
A mixed solution, promoting energy conservation and diversification of production, is the most realistic way forward.
Unfortunately, discussion of energy issues during Québec’s current election campaign has so far mostly focused on superficial debates over banning natural gas and oil production and the price of electricity. The real issue at stake is that a growing Québec will require access to a much greater level of energy resources over the next 10 years, and the province’s existing infrastructure will not be able to meet the demand. The next provincial government will need a plan to prevent a severe energy crisis for future generations.
Wind and solar power can of course be added to the energy mix. But without a realistic plan for securing a sufficient supply of largescale energy resources, Québec’s next government will struggle with the logistics and costs of meeting the province’s current economic targets while continuing to provide basic services to its population.