Quebec approves new gas-fired power plant

Jul 06, 2004 02:00 AM

The Quebec government gave a final go-ahead to the province's first major power plant fired by natural gas but will delay a second project after an outcry by environmentalists and local residents.
Jean Charest's government approved construction of the Becancour plant, which will burn natural gas to produce electricity and provide steam to surrounding industries. The $ 500 mm co-generation facility will be the first large-scale operation of its kind in Quebec and will go into production in 2007.

But a decision on the Suroit gas-fired plant will be delayed, likely into 2005, amid protests that culminated with a three-day hunger strike by three students. A legislative committee will study the option in the fall.
Earlier, Quebec's energy board released a report saying Becancour, which is midway between Montreal and Quebec city, is essential to meeting the province's energy needs. The same report said the Suroit plant southwest of Montreal would provide a cushion, but is not absolutely necessary.
"The board gave us some breathing room by saying Suroit is not indispensable," Natural Resources Minister Pierre Corbeil said in announcing the Suroit delay. "Suroit is an insurance policy in our hands," Corbeil said. "Whether we sign it or not is a question that requires further reflection and a look further into the future."

The province announced it will try to double its wind-turbine electrical production, beef up programs to improve energy efficiency and seek more partners for co-generation plants like Becancour. Co-generation technology produces industrial steam in addition to electricity.
Calgary-based TransCanada is contracted to build the Becancour plant for Hydro-Quebec. Hydro-Quebec, normally the largest shipper of electricity to the United States, expects to be a net importer of power this year for the first time in its history as demand outstrips supply.

New hydroelectric dam projects are under way but may require a decade or more to complete. The utility is turning to gas-fired plants because they are approved faster than dams. About 97 % of Quebec's power comes from hydroelectricity, which floods vast areas but produces practically no air pollution or greenhouse gases.
"Quebec produces less greenhouse gas for energy production than any other jurisdiction in North America," Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair said.

However, environmentalists have said Quebec should not start using fossil fuels to produce electricity on a large scale. Quebec has one small oil-fired plant that typically runs for only a few days every winter.
"We've done very well in Quebec, with one small exception, without fossil fuels," said Sidney Ribaux, director of the Equiterre environmental group. "Gas is definitely a step backwards. You have to compare gas-fired plants to other options, not how electricity is produced elsewhere in the world."

Quebec's first steps toward natural gas would use the latest technology and would actually count as green energy under Canada's initial plan to implement the Kyoto Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Other provinces like Ontario and Alberta rely heavily on coal-fired plants, which pollute much more, putting Quebec's proposed natural gas facilities on the green side of the Kyoto equation.

While Suroit would be cleaner than the average Canadian power plant, according to provincial government numbers, that did not stop activists, Roman Catholic nuns and farmers opposing it. Three men in their early 20s began a hunger strike outside the legislature in protest against the projects. The three declared victory after four days and went home.
"Suroit is dead, that's for sure," Nicolas Vezeau said as he packed up his lawn chair.

Source: Toronto Star
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