Deforestation concerns voiced during hearings into Hydro-Québec project

Hydro-Québec plans to cut down hundreds of trees to build an 80-kilometre power line through the Eastern Townships.

Public utility wants to increase its capacity to export electricity to the United States

Hydro-Québec is teaming up with U.S. company Eversource to supply power to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Several individuals and groups are raising concerns about the countless trees that will be cleared to make way for Hydro-Québec's planned 80-kilometre power line through the Eastern Townships.

The BAPE, Quebec's environmental review agency, kicked off hearings into the project last night in Sherbrooke.

Hydro-Québec is teaming up with U.S. company Eversource to supply power to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island for the $1.4-billion project.

The proposed power line would increase Hydro-Québec's capacity to export electricity to the New England states.
Around 40 people were present on the first day of the BAPE hearings. (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)

André Roy, president of southern Quebec's forestry producers union, was among several people who expressed concerns about the 280 hectares of deforestation that would take place if Hydro-Québec's project goes ahead as planned.

"Will Hydro-Québec replace the trees that will be lost when they build this power line?" he said.

Environmental impact to be minimized, Hydro says

The 320-kilovolt power line, which would cost $125 million, would go from the town of Val-Joli, Que. to the New Hampshire border.
Most of the proposed 320-kilovolt power line would run parallel to an existing 450-kilovolt power line. (Hydro-Quebec)

Hydro-Québec spokesperson Serge Abergel says the project's environmental impact will be minimized by having most of the power line run parallel to an existing 450-kilovolt line.

"We conceived smaller [electric] pylons so we wouldn't need to clear as large a path," said Abergel. "We've also avoided wet lands, forest areas that may have certain types of plants that should not be disturbed."

The portion of the power line that wouldn't run parallel to the existing one – a 15-kilometre long stretch beginning north of the town of Saint-Herménégilde, Que. and ending at the New Hampshire border – will pass through the Hereford forest in the town of East Hereford, Que.

The conservation group Hereford Forest is not against the project, but says it was puzzled as to why the public utility never considered putting the lines underground, an option Hydro-Québec says would be too expensive. 

"It's extremely costly," said Abergel. "We're talking about four to ten times the cost an aerial line."

Others, such as Nature Conservancy of Canada's Hubert Pelletier, say the project as environmentally backwards.

"This project contradicts the Quebec government's stated aim of encouraging land conservation," he said.

Hydro-Québec plans to begin building the line in the fall of 2017, with it slated to begin operating in 2019.

The BAPE hearings will continue this afternoon.