MONTREAL — CANADIAN electricity sales to the United States are drying up because of a lack of rain. Electricity exports from Canada to the United States were $890 million (Canadian; US$765 million) in 1988, down from $1.2 billion (US$1 billion) in 1987. And so far this year dry weather has continued to push down sales. For the first six months of this year, electricity exports from Canada to the US are 60 percent of comparable numbers for 1987.
Weather, and the expanding Canadian appetite for its own electricity, are behind those figures. Canadian electric utilities, with the exception of the province of Alberta, are owned by provincial governments. Almost all the power they produce is from hydroelectricity. Most provincial utilities use ``Hydro'' in their name, from Hydro Quebec to Manitoba Hydro.
The big hydroelectric projects cannot be run at full capacity because their reservoirs are low. Lack of rain or snow over the past two years has meant less power to export. In Quebec, water levels in reservoirs are 15 percent below normal and are 26 percent below where they were in 1979, a high-water year.
``We have been in a cycle [of lower rain and snowfall] which is substantially below average,'' said Jacques Guevremont, executive vice president of Hydro Quebec. ``It means we are going from large exports of surplus power to just supplying our regular contracts in the United States.''
Hydro Quebec is by far the largest Canadian supplier of electricity to the United States. In the past 10 years, it has exported C$5 billion worth of power - some to other Canadian provinces but the bulk (C$3 billion) to the US. But lack of water to move its hydroelectric generators has made those figures drop sharply.
In 1987, Hydro Quebec exported C$713 million worth of electricity; in 1988, that dropped to C$471 million; in 1989, it will sell an estimated C$320 million. ``And that will be mostly contract sales; there will be very little surplus electricity for sale,'' said Mr. Guevremont.
Adding to the problem of a lack of water in reservoirs has been Canada's strong domestic economy. Demand for electricity is growing by 5 percent in the large provinces of Ontario and Quebec and by as much as 7 percent in Alberta.
The combination of lower water levels and increased demand has meant that British Columbia has stopped exporting electricity. It has started using a coal-fired plant to generate peak electricity and even imported electricity from neighboring Alberta this year. Heavy snow in the Rockies this winter might just turn that around.