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Canadian Hydropower - US Markets

This article has been re-printed with the permission of Global Renewable News.

Last month an article in the Concord Monitor caught my eye as it focused on the Northeast United States starting to entertain hydro power from Canada to help solve demand spikes in the winter (source: It reminded me of an event I attended last year at the NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Commissioners) summer session in Denver, Colorado. One evening I was invited to a reception at the Canadian Consulate in downtown Denver along with many state, provincial, and federal regulators from both the US and Canada. The theme of the evening was energy imports and exports between the two countries, specifically electrical power and not so much the controversial pipeline from Alberta to Texas.


As the night progressed, it became apparent to me that this was not necessarily about electrical power and the transmission between the two countries, but mainly about hydro power as a renewable resource that could be shared between the two. Granted, based on 2009 data from IEA, the US generates approximately 7 percent of it electricity from hydro power while Canada generates 60 percent.  Some interesting facts shared by the Canadian Hydropower Association included:


Air pollutants and ultra-low greenhouse gas emissions


World’s leading renewable electricity source


Percent of the United States overall electricity supply from Canadian hydropower


Percent of Canada’s electricity generation


Years of hydropower facility life


Megawatts of installed capacity in Canada and the US


Megawatts of potential in Canada and the US


Equivalent households powered annually in Canada and the US


Tonnes/year of avoided greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and the US


Canadians many times equate hydro with electricity as evidenced by their own electric utilities such as BC Hydro, Manitoba Hydro, Hydro One to name a few. They also have a unique structure not found in the US where a province can own and operate the utility. Know as “crown corps,” these utilities are usually large and focused on the distribution of electricity, although some do generate as well. Using hydro-generated electricity as a resource that can be transported across country borders became a topic of the evening. A few of the benefits discussed were:  


  • Canadian hydropower offers competitive and reliable long-term electricity prices because it is not subject to volatile fuel prices
  • For every dollar the US spends on Canadian energy, the US receives back 91 cents from the products that Canadians buy from the US
  • Canadian and US hydropower together, help avoid approximately 350 million tones of CO2 emissions per year
  • Each Terawatt Hour of Canadian hydropower exported to the US displaces between 500,000 and 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2
  • Hydropower helps integrate new renewable electricity such as wind and solar in both the US and Canada to further address climate change
  • Half of undeveloped Canadian hydropower potential alone, could power all light duty vehicles (LDVs) in Canada and approximately 25% of the US LDV fleet, if the vehicles were all plug-in hybrid electrics
  • Canadian hydropower is currently less than 1% of US electricity supply


It is not uncommon for hydro to get lost in the renewable discussion when solar and wind is the main focus of many regulatory discussions. However, according to a pamphlet distributed by the Canadian Hydropower Association, the US National Academy of Sciences has found that emissions from the construction and operation of a hydropower facility are comparable to other renewable such as wind power and many times less than natural gas. An argument exists that hydropower is also good for the economy and job creation. To state a specific example, BMW recently chose to build its advanced carbon fiber manufacturing facility in the US Pacific-Northwest specifically because the region is serviced by clean, renewable, and competitive hydropower.


Speaking of the economy, one statistic that was not discussed but I am sure of its relevance in cross-border spending is the percentage of retail sales that are about to occur on Black Friday when Canadians invade the US to shop for deals. While not sold on any one fuel source alone, whether it be coal, gas, nuclear, hydro, solar, wind, or other, I do believe that hydro has a role in achieving a healthy mix of generation in the near term and the future. Canadian hydro does have an appeal for their neighbors to the south.


Jon Brock is President of Denver-based utility and energy adviser Desert Sky Group, LLC and chair of the Montreal-based Smart Grid RoadShow.  He can be reached at

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