On March 24, the Chamber held its first Strategic Forum on the energy transition. Close to 300 decision makers gathered to discuss business opportunities and challenges related to Québec’s shift to a lower carbon economy. As part of this initiative, we talked to Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Hydro-Québec spokesperson.
Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal (CCMM) – What is Québec’s position in North America in terms of renewable energy?
M.-A.P. – In terms of production, Québec is a leader in North America and the world, because, thanks to its hydroelectric potential, 99% of the electricity generated is from renewable energy. This represents 36,370 megawatts. 
Despite our enviable position, there is still work to be done. We need to reduce the use of hydrocarbons and use more clean energy, particularly in the transportation sector, which is not yet fully electric and which is responsible for 41% of greenhouse gas emissions. 
CCMM – If 99% of the electricity produced is from clean energy, where does the remaining 1% come from?
M.-A.P. – From our 22 thermal power plants, which operate on independent networks. The energy is produced from hydrocarbons and is therefore expensive and polluting. To reduce their use, in May 2016 we announced that we wanted to convert these plants to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and small-scale hydro. We issued a request for proposals to do this. The project will be completed in 2023.
CCMM – What is the challenge with the energy transition?
M.-A.P. – The challenge is decarbonizing Québec’s economic activities by supporting large companies in their efforts and working hand in hand with the transportation industry. Québec is starting on a second phase in the energy transition. The first occurred in the 1980s, when Hydro-Québec put its James Bay stations into service and developed programs to convert oil-based residential heating systems. This allowed Québec to reduce its consumption of oil by 20%.
CCMM – What is your place in this strategy?
M.-A.P. – Given that hydroelectricity is clean, abundant and available, because it can be accumulated in reservoirs, Hydro-Québec is very involved in this transition. The 2030 Energy Policy was released in spring 2016. From day one, we were at the heart of it.
Concretely, we are helping electrify transportation, in terms of both infrastructure and equipment. For example, with electric vehicles, we are developing a network of charging stations and batteries for engines.
We also offer growing businesses economic development rates. Businesses that want to grow, hire and in turn increase their electricity consumption enjoy a 20% discount until December 31, 2027. Why? Because access to affordable energy improves the business environment and encourages foreign companies to come to Québec.
Let’s take the example of data centres. The sector is growing quickly, particularly in North America, and Montréal is the epicentre: Amazon and Ericsson are already here, and Google has just announced it will open a data centre in the city.  These companies are major consumers of electricity, but they also care about their carbon footprint. So we are doing what it takes to attract them to Québec because our electricity comes from clean, affordable energy (it is the cheapest in North America). Our clean energy, climate, competitive rates and expertise make Québec a leading choice for this industry.
We generally work closely with businesses that consume a lot of electricity to introduce energy efficiency measures.
CCMM – We talked about thermal power plants. What is your action plan for supporting businesses in their use of low-carbon energy sources?
M.-A.P. – We made a request to Québec’s Régie de l’énergie to introduce a $50 million program to convert equipment running on oil and propane in commercial, institutional and industrial markets (which is to say plants, schools and so on). This program will be launched in the next few weeks. 
The idea is to help industries that consume a lot, by financing up to 75% of the costs of conversion. It’s a winning program for them, because the investment reduces their future heating bill. For Hydro-Québec, it’s a source of additional revenue. And for Québec, it’s an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.
CCMM – On March 24, the Chamber held the Strategic Forum on the energy transition. What did you take away from the discussions?
M.-A.P. – There are tremendous challenges, but solutions are already on the table. We have the know-how and the will. The only obstacle to the energy transition is time. We need to address this issue against the backdrop of climate change.
Would you like to find out more about the energy transition?
Download our fact sheet on the issue