Canada Boosting Hydro Power to 88.5 GW to Replace US Coal

Canada’s hydropower industry has plans to invest up to $70 billion on hydro-electric projects across the country in the next 10 to 15 years, increasing its hydro-electric resources – to a truly staggering 88,500 MW.

Most of the additional projects are in provinces with abundant precipitation that is likely to increase in a warming future, making them ideal for hydropower. Hydro-electric power is much cleaner in cold climates than in warm ones, because methane emissions that are caused by rotting vegetation are lower in colder climates. Quebec is building another 4,570 MW, British Columbia: 3,341 MW, Labrador: 3,074 MW and Manitoba: 2,380 MW.

Hydro is a good partner with the increasing amounts of renewable power being added to the grid. Because hydro can be turned on and off almost instantaneously, it is an ideal partner with solar and wind, “filling in the gaps from intermittent sources,” says Jacob Irving, head of the Canadian Hydropower Association.

Much of the new clean power is for exporting to the US – at least initially. “Each terawatt hour of hydro exported to the United States largely replaces fossil fuel generation,” says Irving. In Canada, only 19% of power comes from coal, so exporting it to the dirtier US grid will have more effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. Current hydropower exports to the US already reduce continental greenhouse gas emissions by at least half a million tons annually, he says.

The argument for increasing hydro-electricity imports from the colder and wetter North is compelling, given that each year 600 coal-fired generating plants in the US burn nearly a billion tons of coal. While nationwide, coal provides 45% of US electricity, this is heavily skewed by just eight states that are heavily dependent, getting between 85% and 98% of their electricity from coal – North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming and Utah.

The exciting results of some timely research funded by the Department of Energy into a more environmentally friendly turbine for hydro-electricity comes at a time when hydro-electricity is getting a fresh look, and the EPA is beginning the process of retiring the oldest and dirtiest coal power stations on the grid.


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