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Rate increase brouhaha raises question about Hydro-Québec's role

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Hydro-Québec's recent request to the Régie de l'énergie for a rate hike has quickly become a hot button issue. On my part, I have been quite vocal about my belief that it is cutting corners for a Crown corporation to blame the proposed hike on the cost of wind energy. To me, it suggests that we should look more closely at the role of Hydro-Québec.

For some, Hydro-Québec's main role is to meet the electricity needs of Quebec at the lowest possible cost. This position is supported, on the one hand, by consumer groups and, on the other, by manufacturers who see any increase as a threat to their competitiveness.

For the state, Hydro-Québec has become a cash cow, a money-making machine. There is every reason to maximize profits, especially since a large portion thereof returns to the shareholder, i.e., the government itself.

Let me remind those who would claim that Hydro-Québec is on the brink of financial collapse due to wind energy that the Crown corporation paid a dividend of $2.2 billion to the government in 2013 (up from $645 million in 2012).

For others, myself included, our Crown corporations have an important role to play in our economy and this role may sometimes lead to choices that do not necessarily result in lower prices or maximized profits.

Historically, the development and vitality of many Quebec regions have been linked to our Crown corporations. Recent choices make sense if they enable such promising sectors as wind power and electrification of transportation to emerge.

For low income consumers, I would like us to go further with energy efficiency programs so as to reduce or eliminate the impact of rate increases, which is very achievable. For those who seek maximum profits, I suggest that we look together at the economic benefits of Hydro-Québec's activities before crying wolf about wind energy or electrification.

This article by Steven Guilbeault, senior director of Equiterre, originally appeared in French in the Métro newspaper.