Widespread drought spares Hydro-Québec

While drought threatens hydroelectric power production almost everywhere in the world, Hydro-Québec is dealing with a steady rise in water levels in its reservoirs.

Posted at 6:00 am

Helen Barill

Helen Barill
The press

“What we’ve observed over the last few years and what the models are telling us is that climate change is having increasing impacts on the water supplies to our reservoirs,” said Hydro.-Quebec spokesman Maxence Huard-Lefebvre.

Large Hydro-Quebec reservoirs can store enough water to meet the electricity needs of all of Quebec for a year.

For years, the state-owned company feared the impact of a possible prolonged drought on its production capacity, so it refused to publish the water levels of its reservoirs, information considered sensitive for commercial reasons.

Rather the opposite happens. Larger-than-normal water inflows are forcing the state corporation to manage surpluses, either by exporting more or by letting the water flow in vain without running it through its turbines, which it had to do in 2017 and 2019.

A “general consensus”

Ouranos, an independent organization specializing in climate studies, confirms that all forecast models agree that Hydro-Québec will benefit from an increased water supply to its major reservoirs in the north of the province over the next few years. This is due to global warming and the retreating ice sheet.

“There is a general consensus that major water inflows are envisaged in the north and in the Hydro-Québec reservoirs,” says André Bourque, general manager of Ouranos.

It’s not impossible that there will be a drought for a year or two, but the fact remains that Hydro-Québec is less prone to drought because its reservoirs are north and so large.

André Bourque, Managing Director of Ouranos

According to him, risks from large wildfires and storms, increasingly common climate events, threaten Hydro-Québec more than water shortages.

drought around the globe

The summer of 2022 was marked by prolonged periods of drought almost everywhere on earth. China has closed factories due to the drought, which has reduced its hydropower production in Sichuan. In California, where hydroelectric power meets 17% of the state’s needs, water shortages have resulted in a significant reduction in production.

Even in a Nordic country like Norway, where hydropower meets 97% of electricity needs, the drying up of power plant reservoirs has become so critical that the country could halt its electricity exports to Europe.

The water level in the reservoirs is crucial for Hydro-Québec, which wants to supply electricity consumers in Massachusetts and New York in the long term. The national company now has to publish information about changes in the water levels in its reservoirs three times a year.

Hydro-Quebec manages 27 reservoirs with a storage capacity equivalent to 173 terawatt hours of electricity, or Quebec’s electricity needs for one year.

The largest of these reservoirs are located in James Bay, namely Caniapiscau (4359 km2), La Grande 3 (2451 km2) and Robert-Bourassa (2905 km2).

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