September 23, 2023

La Ronge Northerner

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Low rainfall prompts Hydro to monitor its reservoirs

Low rainfall prompts Hydro to monitor its reservoirs

We suspect that the current level of reservoirs is low due to historically dry summers in Nord-du-Québec, leading Hydro-Québec to take specific measures to ensure sufficient electricity generation for the winter.

Last week, the state-owned company voluntarily reduced its electricity export activities in April, May and June, mainly due to very low energy prices in international markets.

François Bouffard, associate professor of electrical engineering at McGill University, said in an interview. Newspaper The extremely low water levels in Hydro-Québec’s reservoirs may explain its decision to reduce its exports last quarter.

“If the summer fires lead us to believe, it’s not impossible that basin levels will be particularly low, and Hydro is already taking preventive measures to create minimum water reserves to generate the electricity Quebec needs this winter.”

Eye in its tanks

When questioned on the matter, Hydro-Québec does not deny the existence of its reservoirs in the eye. While falling energy prices are the main justification for this decision to put a soft pedal on its exports, Maxence Huard-Lefebvre, a spokesman for Hydro-Québec, acknowledges that the size of its reservoirs also took into account.

We know southern Quebec has seen heavy rainfall over the past few months. However, in James Bay areas especially dry climates. No less than 15 million hectares – a little more than a third of France – have already burned.

Hydro-Québec promises. Maxence Hard Lefebvre insists: “There is nothing to worry about.” In addition to already reducing its exports, Hydro’s vice president of finance said it was happy to have “multi-year reservoirs” that give it “great flexibility” in deciding whether or not to divest its resources and make long-term decisions. Distribution security.

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Levels are maintained

However, the exact extent of the “energy stocks” of these reservoirs is currently unknown. This information “will be provided to the Régie de l’énergie in September and will be publicly available every year around this time,” he replied.

On January 1, 2023, Hydro estimated its power generation reserves at 133.2 terawatt hours (TWh). This was slightly higher than January 2022’s 129.4 TWh, but lower than its average reserves over the past five years on the same date (137.26 TWh).

However, it is still too late to draw conclusions on the annual trend. [des niveaux d’eau]A Hydro spokesperson argued that the fall could also create significant water inflows.

“In the long term, climate change forecasts indicate a 5 to 10% increase in precipitation in northern Quebec, precisely where our large reservoirs are located.”

Reverse view

It should be remembered that until recently, Hydro-Québec had to deal with excess generating capacity.

High water inflows have forced the state-owned utility to export more electricity or waste water by not passing it through its turbines, something it has had to do for years.

In 2019, Hydro-Québec lost 18 TWh, equivalent to $1 billion at the time in export markets. The previous year, struggling with tanks full to the brim, it was forced to dump the equivalent of 10 TWh.


Hydro-Québec manages 27 reservoirs with a storage capacity equivalent to 173 terawatt hours of electricity, or the equivalent of Quebec’s electricity needs for one year. The largest of these reservoirs is in James Bay, the Caniapiscaw (4359 km).2), La Grande 3 (2451 km2) and Robert-Pourassa (2905 km2)

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History of Hydro’s “Energy Stock” Position

Year* in TWh

2023 133.2

2022 129.4

2021 154.9

2020 134.2

2019 134.6

2018 140.5

2017 138.3

2016 126.9

2015 103.7

2014 96.1

* According to 1R January every year.

Source: Hydro-Québec