When energy is “renewable” but not exactly clean

Can we stop talking about how wind turbines destroy ridge lines?

Real shocker from VTDigger: The large-scale hydropower dams in northern Quebec, which provide much of Vermont’s supply of “renewable” electricity, have taken a human toll on First Nations communities in the far north. And will take an even greater toll as more dams are built.

Because of course they have and of course they will. Each dam floods huge tracts of land. The Innu and Inuit people depend heavily on using their land for hunting and gathering. Their lives are being constricted by the buildout of hydro power, which is in high demand from New England states eager to meet renewable energy targets. Which, in turn, means that more dams are in the works.

By exporting our environmental pain to faraway people. Or, as Inuit elder Alex Saunders put it, “Think about what you’re buying here. You’re buying the misery from the local people of northern Canada.”

You put it that, way, HQ’s “renewable” energy seems a little less renewable.

This isn’t a simple issue. HQ is a major resource for non-carbon-emitting power, and will continue to be. But the lives of indigenous people shouldn’t be swept aside — especially when Vermonters are so queasy about the esthetics of solar and wind installations in their home state, and seem to want to preserve Vermont’s [ahem, false] purity at the expense of others.

I mean, just look at that picture and tell me that large-scale wind turbines are unacceptably destructive. You can’t, if you’re being at all honest about it.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, a Canadian writer of Cherokee descent. It’s a brief, witty and painful account of how white folks have treated Native Americans as an inconvenience throughout their joint history.

And the First Nations people of northern Quebec and Labrador, whose lives were largely encumbered for centuries because their lands were essentially valueless in white people’s terms, have now become inconvenient.

This year, Vermont officially deep-sixed the Columbus Day holiday, renaming it Indigenous Peoples Day. A noble move, pretty much entirely on paper — like Black History Month. If we fail to consider HQ’s effect on native peoples, or if we prioritize our own state’s alleged purity over their lives and interests, then our Columbus Day wokeness is, in a fundamental sense, a lie.

Because when push comes to shove, we still view Native Americans as an inconvenience.


2 thoughts on “When energy is “renewable” but not exactly clean

  1. Meg Sheehan

    Thanks for this article flagging the hypocrisy behind Vermont’s use of Hydro-Quebec’s dirty, climate-busting hydropower. Here at North American Megadam Resistance Alliance http://www.northeastmegadamresistance.org we are committed to raising awareness of the renewed push to bring more of this dirty energy to New England and Vermont. There is a dirty hydro corridor coming to Vermont soon to transmit blood megawatts from Canada – from Labrador where Alex Saunders and his family live – and more dams are planned. http://www.necplink.com/about.php

    Two important corrections to this article. First, large hydropower is NOT “non-carbon emitting” According to the Waterkeeper Alliance, large hydropower is dirty energy and should be treated like fossil fuels. A recent peer-reviewed scientific study says it can be worse for the climate than coal.

    800 groups support the position from International Rivers that large hydro should not be considered a climate solution http://www.internationalrivers.org/node/9204 Two hundred groups signed on to a letter in December for the COP 25 in Madrid saying the UN should not support subsidies for large hydro. https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/its-time-for-climate-bonds-initiative-to-scrap-its-hydro-certification-scheme-commentary/

    Second, this is not “renewable” power either: the rivers, biodiversity, wildlife, cultures and forests have been irreversibly destroyed and cannot be renewed. The water flowing through the hydro turbines is changed chemically and depleted of nutrients that are trapped behind the dams. While it may rain again, the water in the river will take millenia to restore to the pristine water that it once was-if that is even possible.

    Vermont’s proposed new hydro corridor has been appropriately greenwashed and even has support from so-called big greens like Conservation Law Foundation, which basically took a $202 million dollar bribe to clean up Lake Champlain. But not to worry, we can be complicit in destroying rivers and causing cultural genocide in Canada because we need to pretend we are getting “clean” energy from Hydro-Quebec. We spend millions in New England to restore what are tiny dams by comparison-but it’s OK if we destroy rivers in Canada. Just one of HQ’s 60 or so megadams, the La Grande, diverts and dams 32,000 square miles, the size of Maine, for a 1,200 square mile reservoir. How would Vermonter’s like it if their state was flooded, stream flows altered and rivers manipulated to meet energy demand in Montreal?

    Hydro-Quebec’s projects undermine Aboriginal communities and First Nation sovereignty in Canada. The Pessamit Innu First nation accuses Hydro-Quebec of cultural genocide for stealing its land and destroying livelihoods, cultures and history. https://www.concordmonitor.com/Pessamit-Innu-say-Hydro-Quebec-can-no-longer-hide-the-facts-11991318

    See also,

    Some additional reading on the subject of how HQ went about the cultural genocide of the Aboriginal people to get the hydro Vermont now calls clean energy is this great book:
    Strangers Devour the Land, A Chronicle of the Assault upon the Last Coherent Hunting Culture in North America, the Cree Indians of Northern Quebec, and Their Vast Primeval Land.

    In Maine, Hydro-Quebec is trying to “put lipstick on a pig” by greenwashing the “New England Clean Energy Connect” project – sound familiar Vermont? An MIT professor says HQ is all wrong when it claims its hydro is climate friendly.

    Putting the burden of our so-called clean energy on Indigenous people and marginalized communities is indeed hypocrisy.

    At the 50th Annual Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Indigenous community members from Canada explained the impact U.S. consumption of so-called “clean” hydro has had on them. Check it out then think about it when you turn on the lights and pat yourself on the back for being a “green” state. https://www.facebook.com/StandingBearNetwork/videos/586250865495965/

  2. Kay Trudell

    If anyone on this site supported the closing of Vermont Yankee I don’t want to hear complaining about Canada. VY generated power right here in Vermont. When it closed, we lost 600 jobs and enabled things like this to occur. We care so much about the Aboriginal people in Canada but who cared about the Vermonters who lost their jobs and financial security, along with ruining the town of Vernon? We need sympathy closer to home. I hope the author of this article was down in Vernon picketing in support of keeping VY open and supporting clean nuclear power right here in Vermont. I was.


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