States Question Quebec Power

NEW York and Massachusetts are proceeding with legislation aimed at blocking imported hydroelectricity from Quebec - unless the province leaps environmental hurdles first.

Following action by New York's Senate last week, a Massachusetts legislative committee this week heard testimony on several bills that would:

* Make the state calculate the environmental costs of any new power contracts, not just the purchase price - and consider wind, solar, and conservation ahead of hydro, nuclear, and fossil fuel.

* Require hydro-power companies to file environmental impact reports with the state before any energy is sold there.

* Prohibit state pension funds from owning bonds issued by Hydro-Quebec, the provincial utility, which uses them to finance hydro-power projects that include a controversial plan to build a $13.1 billion dam on the Great Whale River in northern Quebec.

* Cap energy imports into the state at 10 percent of demand.

Massachusetts Rep. James Marzilli (D), who sponsored several of the bills, says new contracts with Hydro-Quebec should not be signed until the company meets the state's environmental criteria. But none of the bills, if enacted, would affect an existing $2 billion contract between Hydro-Quebec and New England utilities (including some serving Massachusetts) that supplies 1,500 megawatts annually through the year 2000. Projections are that no new energy supplies will be needed in New England in this decade .

Facing similar low growth in energy demand, New York's Assembly last week passed a bill to block any new contract between the New York Power Authority and Hydro-Quebec before a thorough environmental review of the plan. The bill, which now goes to the New York Senate for debate, threatens a pending 21-year, $19 billion contract between New York and Hydro-Quebec. Financial analysts say the contract is critical to whether the Great Whale project soars or stalls.

"It is my tendency to think that Massachusetts and New York are far more integral to plans to build Great Whale than we have been led [by the company] to believe," said Massachusetts Rep. Albert Herren (D), during the hearings.

Attacks on Hydro-Quebec's Great Whale plan are partly responsible for the Authority delaying ratification of its contract until November. The delay followed intense lobbying by Cree Indians and US environmental groups concerned about flooding native lands, mercury poisoning, and impact on caribou herds.

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