Hydro-Québec, wholly-owned by the Government of Québec, is one of the largest power generation utilities in North America, and one of the largest hydroelectric power generation utilities in the world. Its mission is to provide a secure supply of electricity to Québec.
In total the Company owns and operates 60 hydroelectric generating stations with a capacity of 35,125 MW of output and 26 thermal power generating plants with a capacity of 704 MW of output. Of these, 59 hydroelectric generating stations and two thermal power generating plants are connected to the provincial power grid. In addition to generating stations, the hydroelectric power infrastructure comprises 26 large reservoirs, 664 dams and 97 control structures. The Company also has the right to draw on nearly all output of the 5,428 MW Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador, under an agreement expiring in 2041.
The abundance of lakes and rivers covering Québec are the key resource which has driven the development of this extensive hydroelectric infrastructure.
Although the Company's own generating capacity is founded on hydroelectric power, and to a small degree on thermal power, it is also driving the development of wind power and biomass-fueled generating capacity in Québec by purchasing electricity from third-party electrical power generators using these renewable sources. Power purchase arrangements cover 1,349 MW of output from 15 wind farms, 114 MW of output from seven biomass cogeneration facilities, and 23 MW of output from three hydroelectric plants, all owned by independent power producers.
Hydro-Québec transmits its generated output through a system comprising more than 33,600 kilometers of transmission lines and 516 substations, constituting the most extensive power transmission system in North America. This system possesses 18 interconnection points, most of which allow electrical power interchanges with power grids in New Brunswick, Ontario and the U.S. Northeast. Distribution of electrical power to end users is carried out through a system of more than 114,600 kilometers of distribution lines and five distribution control centres.
Hydro-Québec carries out its mission through four divisions:
Hydro-Québec Production — Generates electrical power for the electrical power grid to supply the needs of the Québec market and for sale on wholesale markets outside of Québec.
Hydro-Québec TransÉnergie — Transmits electricity across Québec and to the exterior of Québec, markets system capacity and manages power flows.
Hydro-Québec Distribution — Distributes electricity to end users in the Québec market, is responsible for off-grid power generation, and is Hydro-Québec's contact and service network for end users in Québec.
Hydro-Québec Équipement et services partagés, and Société d'énergie de la Baie James — Acts as prime contractor to Hydro-Québec, planning and managing construction and refurbishment of generating and transmission facilities throughout Québec, with responsibilities including stakeholder relations, permitting, field surveys, environmental studies, and implementation of environmental measures.
Hydro-Québec has developed its operations over the course of the past 50 years. A number of its construction projects have been undertaken on a record-breaking scale. In 1959 work commenced on the construction of a complex of seven generating stations on the Manicouagan and Outardes rivers in the Côte-Nord region. This complex, with an installed capacity of 7,305 MW, includes the Daniel Johnson Dam, the largest multiple-arch buttress dam in the world. 1971 saw the launching of the 16,000 MW La Grande hydroelectric project in the James Bay region. For a number of years following the completion of the final generation station in 1996, the project was ranked as the largest hydroelectric generating project in the world.
In 1965, Hydro-Québec became the first utility in the world to use alternating current 735 kV power lines in order to transmit electricity more efficiently. Two years later, it established its research centre, which would go on to become renowned worldwide for its research into electricity generation and transmission, and energy efficiency.
Construction of major new projects continues. Construction of the Eastmain-1-A / Sarcelle / Rupert project in the James Bay region was completed in 2013. Its two powerhouses, Eastmain-1-A and Sarcelle, together have an installed capacity of 918 MW. The goal of the project was the partial diversion of the Rivière Rupert. The diversion benefits the massive La Grande project by providing increased water flows to its generating stations. On the Romaine River in the Côte-Nord region, construction of the Romaine hydroelectric complex is well underway. When completed in 2020, Romaine's four generating stations will have an installed capacity of 1,550 MW.
Due to the flexibility of hydroelectricity as an energy source, the Company has the ability to both satisfy its domestic electricity commitments in Québec and export a portion of its generated power. Hydro-Québec Distribution acts as Hydro-Québec's domestic customer, utilitizing a heritage pool of 165 TWh of electricity acquired from Hydro-Québec Production. For needs in excess of that level, Hydro-Québec Distribution negotiates long-term supply contracts with Hydro-Québec Production or purchases power on the market.
Since the deregulation of electricity markets in 1999, Hydro-Québec Production has been selling electrical power on the wholesale market in the U.S. Northeast. As a key participant in North America's power regulatory framework, Hydro-Québec provides non-discriminatory access to Québec's transmission system to all customers in northeastern North America. Hydro-Québec is also active in energy trading on markets outside of Québec through arbitrage and purchase/resale transactions.
Hydro-Québec's responsibilities as an energy supplier extend to other areas. The Company has a network of hydrometeorological monitoring stations across Québec gathering data on precipitation, temperature, snow conditions and other variables. This data is essential for planning generation, maintenance, facility management and equipment design.
Asset sustainment is an ongoing imperative to ensure that investments made by Hydro-Québec last their intended service life. Significant effort is directed to the refurbishment and refitting of the generating stations, where the Company's teams make expert evaluations of the condition and performance of equipment, leading to detailed recommendations about the nature and scheduling of required work. Throughout Hydro-Québec's vast transmission system, assets are maintained, optimized and upgraded throughout their lifecycles with a view to addressing performance, safety and regulatory requirements, meeting standards and ensuring cost-effectiveness.
In a major upgrade program to be completed in 2018, Hydro-Québec Distribution intends to replace 3.75 million customer metering devices across Québec with next-generation meters, which can be read remotely. In addition to improving system management, the new meters will provide a number of efficiencies including billing based on actual usage rather than estimates, remote outage detection, and remote connection/disconnection services.
Ongoing research, primarily through IREQ, Hydro-Québec's research institute, pursues many initiatives aimed at achieving the wider use of electricity and the more efficient generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. Research and development proceeds in areas including:
- Data transmission, processing, integration and storage across the power generation, transmission and distribution network (smart grid).
- Wind powered electricity generation.
- Public charging networks for electric-powered private vehicles.
- Innovative battery materials.
- Automated equipment for inspecting, maintaining and replacing generation and transmission infrastructure.
- Building energy efficiency.
The first public network for charging plug-in, electrically-powered vehicles was launched in March 2012. The initial plug-in stations, at 240 V each, were installed in parking lots in the Montréal and Québec urban areas.
At Hydro-Québec innovation is also founded on the Company's history and experience. The Romaine project is the first large scale application of asphalt concrete core dike construction in response to a lack of suitable material for conventional rock-fill dam construction. The generating station envelope at Romaine-2 was built with steel structures and prefabricated concrete panels rather than cast-in-place concrete for speedier installation and lower labour costs. To keep electrical substations in service while replacing and maintaining equipment, the use of reusable, portable 120 kV cables and specialized equipment for moving them has been developed as an efficient and cost-effective approach to temporary cable installation.
Through a number of national and international energy organizations, Hydro-Québec promotes its expertise in large power systems. The Company also participates in international cooperation and development initiatives.
Hydro Québec undertakes its responsibilities with a parallel commitment to protecting the environment and contributing to the economic, social and cultural development of the world within which it operates.
The Company took up these challenges through its first Sustainable Development Action Plan for the period 2009-2013. The actions undertaken through the plan comprised:
- Contributing to the development of hydroelectric and wind power.
- Increasing the capacity of hydroelectric power generating stations.
- Assisting low income customers.
- Moving forward with energy efficiency initiatives.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.
- Promoting source reduction, reuse and recycling.
- Establishing specifications for sustainable procurement.
- Providing education to employees in the area of sustainability and the Company approach.
- Improving vegetation control methods in the power distribution system to promote biodiversity.
- Organizing sustainability events and promoting sustainable management.
In Spring 2013 a second Sustainable Development Action Plan was finalized for the period 2013-2016.
As a major developer of capital projects with a lifespan of 100 years or more, Hydro-Québec is very conscious of its responsibility to protect the environment. The environment is a major component of each project and entails environmental impact assessments of all aspects of a project in collaboration with affected parties, and plans for the prevention, mitigation or offsetting of those impacts. The Company's environmental responsibility extends through the permitting process, environment compliance monitoring during construction, protection of air, soil and water during construction, preservation of biodiversity, site restoration, integration of site facilities with their surroundings, and ongoing Company-wide initiatives such as recycling, sustainable consumption and efficient energy usage.
Planning for the Eastmain 1-A / Sarcelle / Rupert project was made up of many environmental and social components: protection of fish communities and animal habitat, retaining stream levels at agreed levels, maintaining the natural appearance of certain river areas, participation of local Cree communities in environmental and technical surveys, and ongoing discussion and reporting during the course of construction. Project construction encompassed the building of roads, snowmobile trails, portages and campsites to enable the Cree to resume their use of the land. Much of this work was contracted to Cree businesses. Extensive follow-up consultations were carried out to obtain the views of Cree communities on the effectiveness of Hydro Québec's mitigation measures.
Greenhouse gas emissions and their role in global climate change has become a challenge for the world today. Hydro-Québec, as a renewable resource-based electrical power producer, is playing a significant role in the limiting the emission of greenhouse gases, as measured by greenhouse gas emissions per capita. In addition to giving the residents of Québec the distinction of having the lowest carbon footprint in Canada, Hydro-Québec helps to lower the carbon footprint in other jurisdictions by exporting electricity to those jurisdictions and replacing electricity they might otherwise generate using non-renewable resources. The Company is committed to its focus on clean, renewable energy sources for the benefit of future generations.
Hydro-Québec Distribution is committed to energy efficiency. To this end it has developed programs which enable customers to make more efficient use of electricity. Energy efficiency initiatives targetting a number of customer bases have resulted in the saving of a cumulative 7.6 TWh (terawatt hours) since 2003. One example of these initiatives is a program which by the end of 2012 resulted in the installation of nearly 850,000 electronic thermostats in rental accommodation in Québec and the recycling of components of the older thermostats they replaced. Another program offers rebates to residential customers who replace light bulbs and fixtures with LED products, thereby popularizing this energy-efficient technology and encouraging manufacturers to focus more attention on it.
Fondation Hydro-Québec pour l'environnement provides funds annually for the preservation and enhancement of natural environments. In 2012 the Fondation provided $757,000 for 17 projects around Québec. Projects included the development of nature interpretation trails around Lac Saint-François-Xavier, enhancement of ecosystems in Parc régional des Grandes-Coulées, and restoration of protected natural environments in Mont Saint-Hilaire. Under Hydro-Québec's Integrated Enhancement Program, 1% of the initially authorized value of a new line or substation project in a community is granted to the community to compensate for the residual environmental impacts of construction. Funding is used by communities for projects conferring a benefit on the entire community.
Hydro-Québec's activities as a responsible company reach beyond Québec. During 2012, the Company deployed 350 lineworkers, cableworkers and other employees to a number of U.S. states in order to help restore power to residents in those states following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. This was the largest support mission the Company had engaged in up to that time. This and a smaller deployment to the State of Maryland during that year earned the Company an Emergency Assistance Award from the Edison Electric Institute, the association representing all investor-owned electric companies in the U.S.