Does Québec Have Hydroelectric Power?

Does Québec have hydroelectric power?

The Canadian province of Québec has a long history of harnessing hydroelectric power due to its abundant water resources. With numerous major river systems and waterfalls, Québec has ideal geography for generating renewable hydropower. The province is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world. Today, hydropower makes up approximately 95% of Québec’s electricity generation.

This renewable resource has shaped Québec’s economy and history. The provincial utility Hydro-Québec operates a vast network of hydroelectric stations and reservoirs across the province. While hydropower provides clean, renewable energy, dam construction has also impacted Indigenous communities and ecosystems. Québec’s hydroelectric capabilities allow it to export electricity to neighboring provinces and U.S. states.

This article will provide an overview of Québec’s extensive hydroelectric resources, examining the history, major facilities, environmental effects, and future outlook for this vital sector.

Québec’s Abundant Water Resources

Québec is blessed with an abundance of water resources due to its unique geography. The province contains over 1 million lakes, including parts of the Great Lakes, and receives enormous amounts of precipitation each year. This contributes to Québec having over 500,000 km of rivers within its borders [1]. Major river systems in the province include the Saint Lawrence River, which drains the Great Lakes and provides a vital shipping passage to the Atlantic Ocean. Other major rivers are the Saguenay, Manicouagan, La Grande, and Ottawa Rivers. These large rivers, combined with smaller tributaries, provide Québec with immense hydroelectric potential.

History of Hydropower in Québec

Québec has a long history of harnessing its abundant water resources for hydropower. The first major hydropower project in Québec was the Shipshaw generating station, which began operating in 1926. This underground hydropower station on the Saguenay River had a capacity of 110 MW and represented a major feat of engineering at the time [1].

In the 1930s and 1940s, Québec saw the development of several more hydropower projects by private companies, including Beauharnois on the St. Lawrence River, Rapide-2 on the Manouane River, and several developments on the Betsiamites, Outardes, and Manicouagan rivers [2]. These early projects laid the foundation for the later large-scale development of hydropower in the province.

The nationalization of electricity in Québec in 1944 led to the creation of Hydro-Québec, the provincial power utility. This set the stage for the massive expansion of hydropower that took place in the 1960s-1980s under Hydro-Québec’s direction.


Hydro-Québec was founded in 1944 by the provincial government with the nationalization of private electric companies. It was originally called “Hydro-Québec public utility” before changing its name in 1978. The new public utility was given a mandate to electrify rural areas and establish low uniform rates across the province.

In the 1960s, Hydro-Québec began building new power stations and high voltage transmission lines to meet the growing demand for electricity. The Manic-Outardes project developed between 1961-1965 was the largest hydroelectric project in North America at the time. This period of rapid expansion established Hydro-Québec as one of the largest hydroelectric utilities in the world.

Today, Hydro-Québec generates, transmits and distributes electricity across Québec. It owns and operates over 60 hydroelectric generating stations and manages one of the largest hydroelectric generation fleets in the world. The utility continues to develop new hydroelectric resources to meet Québec’s electricity needs.

Major Hydropower Facilities

Québec has invested heavily in developing massive hydropower facilities to harness the energy potential of its abundant water resources. The province is home to some of the largest hydroelectric generating stations in Canada and the world.

The Robert-Bourassa generating station, part of the La Grande complex, has a capacity of 5,616 MW, making it one of the largest hydroelectric generating stations in the world (VoyagesAML). The Churchill Falls generating station in Labrador has a capacity of 5,428 MW and annually produces over 30 TWh of electricity.

Other major hydroelectric facilities in Québec include the Manic-Outardes complex (3,460 MW capacity), the Jean-Lesage generating station (2,106 MW), and the René-Lévesque generating station (1,436 MW). The Romaine complex currently under construction will add 1,550 MW of capacity when completed.

In total, Hydro-Québec operates 61 hydroelectric generating stations with a combined installed capacity of over 36,000 MW, testifying to the significant hydropower resources developed in the province.

Electricity Exports

Québec is a major net exporter of electricity, primarily to neighboring provinces and the United States. In 2022, Québec exported nearly 37 TWh of electricity, over 95% of which went to the US [1]. Québec accounts for over 10% of all electricity consumed in the US. In 2022, revenue from electricity exports reached a new record high of $5.8 billion for Canada overall, with Québec being the largest exporting province [2]. The vast majority of Québec’s electricity exports are through high-voltage transmission lines connected to neighboring US states like New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Hydro-Québec, the provincial utility, oversees electricity trade and new interconnection projects to expand export capabilities. Exports vary seasonally depending on electricity demand, prices, and precipitation levels which impact hydropower generation. Going forward, Québec aims to continue growing electricity exports to neighboring US markets as part of its clean energy transition strategy.

Environmental Impacts

Hydroelectric dams and reservoirs have significant impacts on the surrounding ecosystems and wildlife. Flooding large areas of land to create reservoirs destroys terrestrial habitats and displaces wildlife species that depend on them. Altering the natural flow of rivers also negatively affects aquatic ecosystems and fish habitat downstream of dams. Reservoirs emit greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide due to the decomposition of flooded biomass and disturbed soils [1].

The creation of reservoirs has flooded over 10,500 square kilometers in Québec, an area larger than Lebanon, submerging forests and wetlands that provided important habitat for many species [2]. Migratory fish like salmon have been blocked from reaching their historical spawning grounds above dams. Hydropower facilities also change natural seasonal flow patterns in rivers, impacting fish reproduction and survival. Overall, hydropower development has been linked to declines in biodiversity in affected watersheds.

Environmental groups have raised concerns about the impacts of existing and proposed hydropower projects in Québec on ecosystems, wildlife, and indigenous communities [3]. More research and monitoring is needed to better understand these effects over the long-term and support more sustainable hydropower planning in the future.

Indigenous Communities

Hydroelectric development in Québec has had significant impacts on the First Nations groups living in the province. Many dams have been built on indigenous lands without proper consultation or consent from local communities.

Construction of reservoirs has flooded large areas of traditional territory, displacing indigenous groups and disrupting their way of life. For example, the James Bay hydroelectric project flooded over 6,500 square miles of Cree and Inuit lands.

Dams and diversions have also disrupted rivers and waterways that are essential for fishing, hunting, trapping, and transportation for indigenous groups like the Innu and Cree (Cultural Survival, 2010).

First Nations in Québec have protested and sued Hydro-Québec over the impacts of dams. In 2021, a coalition of indigenous tribes filed a lawsuit to stop construction of a major transmission line, citing lack of consultation and threats to caribou habitat (Maine Public, 2021).

While hydroelectric power has brought economic benefits to Québec, it has come at a major cost for many First Nations communities who have seen their lands and ways of life disrupted. Ongoing tensions remain over indigenous rights and Hydro-Québec’s development plans.

Future Outlook

Québec has significant potential for future growth in hydroelectric power production. According to Hydro-Québec, electricity demand in Québec is projected to double by 2050, which will require up to 200 terawatt-hours of extra capacity (Massive investment will boost capacity, reduce outages). To meet this increased demand, Hydro-Québec has planned several new large-scale hydroelectric projects.

Some of the major projects planned include:

  • Romaine Complex – Four new power stations on the Romaine River with a combined capacity of 1,550 megawatts, projected for completion by 2022.
  • La Romaine-4 – 800 megawatt power station scheduled for completion in 2021.
  • Magpie Complex – A new 846 megawatt power station on the Magpie River, to be completed by 2026.

These new facilities will significantly boost Québec’s hydro capacity. However, recent projections indicate Québec may face an electricity shortfall as early as 2027 due to commitments to export large amounts of power to neighboring US states like New York and Massachusetts (Quebec faces big power shortfall on U.S. hydro electricity exports). Québec will need to balance electricity exports, projected local demand growth, and new hydro developments to meet future needs.


Québec is fortunate to possess enormous hydropower resources thanks to its abundant natural waterways. With dozens of massive hydroelectric facilities, Québec generates over 95% of its electricity from hydropower. This clean, renewable energy source has fueled Québec’s growth for over a century. Looking ahead, Québec plans to further develop its hydropower capabilities while addressing environmental impacts. With wise stewardship of its rivers and working cooperatively with Indigenous communities, Québec can continue benefiting from its unique geography to produce ample low-carbon electricity for decades to come.

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