Departure of Sophie Brochu: an uncertain future for Quebec's energy policy

Sophie Brochu's departure: an uncertain future for Quebec's energy policy

The Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, accompanied by the President and Director General Manager of Hydro-Québec, Sophie Brochu, presented the project for a green corridor of nearly 27 km in a north-south axis to connect two parks in the city./Josie Desmarais

“As long as we are able to assert the great prerogatives of the need for the energy system, I will be there,” said Sophie Brochu in October 2022. However, the latter has just announced her resignation from the position of CEO of Hydro-Québec . Will his fear that Quebec will become the Dollarama of electricity materialize?

While the elected representatives of the opposition are demanding transparency regarding this unexpected departure, the latter could leave the field open to the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) to pursue an energy policy based on exporting and increasing the number of hydroelectric dams.

Opposing visions?

Éloïse Edom, research associate at the Trottier Energy Institute, says she is surprised by the short tenure of the CEO, unusual for such a position. “This is big news for the energy sector!” she exclaimed in an interview with Métro.

“Sophie Brochu's goal was to decarbonize society.” For its part, “the government [de la CAQ] seeks rather to develop the economic side of Hydro-Québec”, analyzes Ms. Edom.

Ms. Brochu's vision also included a part of reducing the electricity consumption, even energy sobriety, while the forecast need for dams comes from an increase in electricity consumption.

As many political observers have pointed out, the opposing visions of Ms. Brochu and Pierre Fitzgibbon, the minister to whom Hydro-Québec reports, could have led to a resignation on a background of dissension. Ms. Edom says she wonders about political interference but has no answers.

The researcher does not think that roadblocks should be avoided, but rather that they should not be a priority. “We have fewer and fewer resources for large dams, their construction has significant impacts and takes a lot of time,” she says. It identifies wind energy as promising for the future of electricity production. According to her, this technology has improved a lot.

Energy sobriety, sinews of war

The researcher calls for a “systemic approach” to the energy issue within environmental debates. “You need energy in a lot of places, but you have to look at it in a holistic way,” she says.

Currently, Quebec plans to build new dams to meet the anticipated sharp increase in electricity consumption, with the electrification of cars and industries. However, with a view to decarbonizing society, it would be desirable, according to Ms. Edom, to better allocate electrical resources by favoring the electrification of areas that need to be electrified and by improving the efficiency of those that are. already. For example, the installation of heat pumps as well as better insulation would make it possible to optimize the consumption of electric residential heating. The surplus electricity released could be used to heat the agricultural greenhouses, which currently mainly use gas.

Same story in the transport sector, where Ms. Edom believes that public transport should be favored to reduce the number of cars and that the weight of cars would benefit from being limited. It particularly targets sports utility vehicles (SUVs), which are particularly popular, which, because of their weight, will consume more fuel even if they are electric.

In addition to energy policies, other environmental policies would be needed to reduce electricity consumption. Among these, creating neighborhoods where shops and other amenities are within walking distance would reduce the number of vehicles. Éloïse Edom notes that in the public debate, “we are afraid to talk about [energy sobriety]”, even if she notes an improvement with the energy crisis in Europe, which brings the subject on the table.

In 2022, the Legault government dithered on the importance of recognizing the need to densify cities. The same government also supports public transport projects, such as the Québec tramway or the structuring transport in eastern Montréal, while defending a project for a third automobile link between Québec and Lévis.

Who What's next?

In the following weeks, Hydro-Québec’s Board of Directors will present candidates to the provincial government. The Council of Ministers will then entrust one of them with the position of CEO of the state-owned company.

Éloïse Edom wonders if the person who will lead Hydro-Québec will follow Ms. Brochu's policy, which tends to “decarbonize Quebec before going to sell elsewhere”. She would like to see at the head of the company a person who “will remain in this perspective of prioritizing what is positive for Quebecers” and whose main action would be to “decarbonize Quebec society”.

The interim leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, Marc Tanguay, is asking for transparency from the government. Transparency deemed necessary by Ms. Edom, who recalls that Hydro-Québec follows a mission of public interest – to distribute electricity – and that its management should therefore be carried out in a transparent manner.

The next weeks will reveal the new face of Hydro-Québec and its vision for the province's energy policy. Will the government take into account that, just as the most recyclable waste is that which is not produced, the most renewable energy is that which is not consumed?

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