Posted at Americas Quarterly on May 11, 2010
The ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the sinking of a BP oil rig has reignited the debate about the risks of offshore drilling for fossil fuels. This issue was raised in the presidential election campaign of 2008, where the proponents of ending the ban on offshore drilling coined the phrase “Drill, baby, drill.”
Just recently, President Obama, in an effort to develop a comprehensive approach to greater energy independence and climate change policy has attempted to placate some of his opponents by endorsing a limited resumption of offshore drilling. The environmental crisis resulting from the continued leakage in the Gulf has, however, given supporters of renewable energy hope that America will finally realize the true cost of its dependence on fossil fuels and consider the alternatives. While there is a limited window of opportunity for an energy bill emanating in this Congress before the November election, the case for alternative energy power that is accessible at an affordable cost with minimum environmental impact, has now made some important gains in the pursuit of the goal of greater energy independence for the United States. Hydro, solar and wind energy are increasingly seen as essential components of America’s energy future and for its quest to decrease its dependence on foreign oil.
Since the 1970s, Quebec has made hydroelectric power the cornerstone of its energy policy. In recent years, government-owned Hydro Quebec has also increased its commitment to wind power. With capacity increasing as major hydro projects are underway, Quebec has the potential to help meet the energy needs of the Northeast and the Midwest of the United States. Currently, Quebec has both short term and long term energy partnerships with the U.S., including with New York and Vermont, making affordable and clean energy available to its partners.
What is most attractive about Quebec’s energy offer is its compliance with the highest environmental standards and with impact assessment processes involving both the Canadian federal and the Quebec provincial governments. These hydro projects are being conducted in close consultation and negotiation with aboriginal nations. In addition, hydro power has low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) impacts and its development takes place in areas with relatively low degrees of biodiversity.
Granted, America’s dependence on fossil fuels will never be eliminated, but environmental, social and economic realities make it imperative to look for alternatives to reduce the dependence on oil, natural gas and coal and thus cut its GHG emissions. Whether it is in Quebec, the U.S. or elsewhere in the hemisphere, renewables should be viewed as safe, reliable and environmentally friendly sources of energy. And they are an essential ingredient to greater energy independence in the future.