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Newfoundland feels left out in sale of electricity to US

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The Province of Quebec is buying cheap electricity from the Province of Newfoundland and selling it to utilities in the northeastern United States for 10 times the price.

Newfoundland doesn't like it, but the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled nothing can be done about it.

The power comes from the Churchill Falls hydroelectric site, a huge power facility built in the wilderness of Labrador. It is owned by the Newfoundland

government, and the contract to sell the power was signed in 1969, long before anyone had heard the words ''energy crisis'' and long before the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries made oil-fired electricity prohibitively expensive.

The contract says power will be sold at $3 a megawatt hour and the agreement runs for 65 years or until 2035. That means billions of dollars in profits for Hydro-Quebec, the provincially owned utility, and peanuts for Newfoundland, the poorest province in Canada.

Last month the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a deal is a deal and Newfoundland will have to continue to sell power at the contracted rate.

You have to look at a map to understand all this. Newfoundland is an island. But its territory includes Labrador, which Quebec has always claimed and shows on its maps as part of its territory.

The only way to ship electricity is by cable over land. Quebec has the transmission system running into the United States. The reluctance of American utilities to build nuclear facilities means a secure market for electricity.

By 1987 it is expected that Hydro-Quebec will be earning $1 billion Canadian a year from exports to the United States, shipping 22 billion kilowatt hours south of the border. In simple terms a kilowatt hour is the amount of energy needed to run ten 100-watt light bulbs for an hour.

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