The province of Quebec, facing a fiscal crisis, recently decided to throw away a massive source of revenue by permanently mothballing its biggest electricity generator, the Gentilly-2 CANDU 6 nuclear reactor. G-2 was due at the end of 2012 to be shut down for refurbishment, which would have added 25 to 30 years to its operating life. But Hydro Quebec, the provincially owned corporation that owns G-2, said, through clenched teeth, that G-2’s 700 megawatts of capacity were no longer needed. Therefore, the refurbishment was cancelled, and the plant will be decommissioned.
Hydro’s teeth were clenched because Hydro doesn’t really believe that it doesn’t need G-2’s power. Hydro knew that there would be days like, well, today, when Quebec’s electricity demand would skyrocket: most homes in Quebec are heated with electricity, and daytime high temperatures across Quebec are in the minus low teens. That means that most of the province’s electrical output is being consumed domestically. Electricity exports to the U.S. northeast, a huge money maker for the province, are being cut back: as a provincially owned utility, Hydro Quebec’s legally mandated priority is Quebec customers. And Quebec’s fiscal coffers, badly in need of revenue at the best of times, are running out.
Meredith Angwin, a Vermonter who publishes the excellent Yes Vermont Yankee and argues that Vermont’s only nuclear plant is an asset and not a liability, suggests in a recent post that Hydro Quebec is a loser in this cold snap—precisely because of the foregone revenue. She is right. Quebec recently had an election, which followed a lengthy period of student unrest over university tuition hikes. Tuition was hiked because the province said it cannot afford to continue to subsidize it. There are a lot of things you cannot afford when you are short of revenue. It does not help if you permanently shut the door on a massive long term source of revenue.
If Hydro Quebec hates forgoing massive amounts of revenue—and who doesn’t hate that—then why did it decide to decommission G-2 instead of refurbishing it and enjoying another quarter century of steady revenue? Because Hydro Quebec is a provincially owned corporation. That means the provincial government owns it. The party that won the recent provincial election is the Parti-Quebecois, and among the articles of faith that guide PQ policy is anti-nukery. Even when nuclear power brings in huge amounts of money.
The PQ’s decision to decommission and not refurbish G-2 is being applauded by the usual anti-nuclear greens. They would rather Quebecers freeze in the dark and borrow money to subsidize university tuition than pay for that tuition by generating huge amounts of carbon-free electricity and selling it at a profit.