Author Topic: A Visit to the James Bay Hydro Project: Government Investment Done Right  (Read 925 times)

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Offline Humphrey Bogart

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I rarely wade in to the political debates on this site but I just recently returned from Baie James, QC where I visited the Robert Bourassa Hydro Electric Dam which if you are unfamiliar, is the sixth largest Hydro Dam in the World and produces enough power to provide electricity for the entire island of Montreal.  It’s  total output capacity is just over 7,000MW and it is a truly impressive structure standing at 53 stories in height and the dam itself is just under 3km is length.  I’ve attached a photo I took from the middle of the dam which will give you an idea of just how big it is:

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The spillway of the dam is on the far left hand side of the photo and the actual generating station is on the far right and is 800ft underground.  The interesting thing is this is one of only seven dams that are part of the James Bay Hydro Project, there are in fact, Six other dams on the La Grande River.  This particular dam created a man made Reservoir which you see behind the dam, it is 3000 sq km.  Visiting this power station was truly humbling and I came away very impressed that people can build such structures. 

What also amazed me was the infrastructure that supported the dam that had all been built by the government, this infrastructure had also had the effect of considerably enriching the surrounding Aboriginal settlements of the area as many had found employment with Hydro Quebec and supporting agencies.  I visited one such settlement named Chisasibi.  What I found was a town that had some social issues of course, but was a far cry from what you would see elsewhere in the country.  New subdivisions were being built, modern housing, a brand new hotel, police station, government buildings, a brand new airport.  Cree trucking companies such as Kepa Transport whose trucks I saw all over the highways between Val D’Or and James Bay, the Cree Construction Company which supports Hydro Quebec, the Mining Industry and the Forestry Industry with engineering expertise. 

Then there was Hydro Quebec, who are a shining example of a Crown Corporation that does things right.  What I observed from Hydro Quebec was a well oiled machine that provides the province of Quebec with tremendous value for money and they could probably teach a few others, including the CAF, about sustainment and logistics.  They are also making money and lots of it selling the power they make, some of it to the United States but a lot of it is actually sold to Ontario.  The Hydro Quebec employee who gave me a tour of the Dam told me the Robert Bourassa Power Station made a Net Profit of $780 million dollars last year and Hydro Quebec as a company made $5 billion in net profit last year. 

The infrastructure built to support the Hydro project has also benefited other industries.  Val D’Or, Rouyn-Noranda, Amos and Matagami are booming indirectly as the railways and roads carved out of the Northwest corner of Quebec have made the entire region of the province easily accessible to Mining and Forestry companies.  It is estimated the James Bay Hydro Project has led to the creation of 185,000 jobs which was originally part of the promise of the politician who envisioned this project, Robert Bourassa. 

Yes there were problems with the project and Quebec was going through a tumultuous period during the time these projects were commenced in the 1970s but I have to give a hand to Robert Bourassa as he and his Government were largely responsible for the creation of this project and it’s a tremendous legacy that he has left behind.  Having seen it, I now consider Bourassa and Rene Levesque, who also had a hand in seeing this through as true visionaries and regardless of what you think of both of them, this is definitely something they both got right.

With this in mind, and having seen successive Federal, Provincial and Municipal Governments make a boondoggle out of numerous projects over the past number of years, it leaves me wondering.  Where is all our tax money going?  I feel as if we are paying more and more tax every year but seeing less and less of a return.  The latest controversy being Carbon Tax and Carbon Pricing.  I would have no problem paying a Carbon Tax if I knew it would be used to greatly enhance public transportation in say Toronto with green solutions or in some other infrastructure program like building carbon capture plants but there is no evidence that this money would go to any of that. 

In fact, I look at how the Federal and Provincial Governments spend money and while most of it goes in to sunken costs and sustaining itself, around 30-35% goes in to discretionary spending.  It’s here that I am perplexed what we do with the money?  I don’t have answers to this but in a country who can’t seem to build an oil pipeline, can’t build ships for its Federal fleets, Provinces like Ontario that make a royal mess of electricity and can’t seem to get any infrastructure right and end up buying much of their power from Quebec because of their screw up; are we doing something wrong?

I’m left wondering where all the visionary leaders like Rene Levesque and Robert Bourassa are?


Online Remius

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Rene Levesque and Henri Bourassa are both dead if you are wondering where they are... ;D

All kidding aside, I've heard nothing but good things about this project (except the environmental impact and the termination of the great Whale complex).  It was also a shining example of how to deal with aboriginal communities.  Quebec created a bilateral approach to that and kept the feds out of the picture.
Optio

Online Colin P

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I wrote most of the Federal approvals and permits for Site C, took part in the Joint Review Panel(JRP), do a lot of First Nation consultant on those regulatory reviews. Regardless of where you stand on these types project, the reviews and mitigations are a far cry better than what was done in the 60's. The JRP s 60,000 pages.