HUNGRY for industrial development and economic independence to match its political ambitions, Quebec wants to build a controversial electrical generation facility. The French-speaking province, now embroiled in a constitutional crisis with Canada's nine English-speaking provinces, built its industrial base on a steady supply of cheap electricity.
For instance, Quebec is the world's biggest aluminum producer even though it has no bauxite (aluminum ore). That's because the biggest cost in producing aluminum is electricity.
Alcan Aluminum, one of the world's largest aluminum companies, has its headquarters in Montreal and 48 percent of its aluminum smelting capacity in Quebec. Last year five new aluminum smelter projects were announced, all to produce ingots from imported ore.
More than 95 percent of Quebec's electricity is generated at huge hydroelectric sites in the north. And Hydro Quebec, the giant electricity utility, wants to build new capacity there to meet domestic and foreign demand. Construction on the final stage of the James Bay project is going on right now. Plans to expand it are drawing fire from federal officials, environmentalists, the native Cree inhabitants, and even lawmakers in New York state, which buys electricity from Hydro Quebec.
The first phase of the new project would affect five rivers and create three or four new reservoirs. The second phase, to be completed by 2006, would reverse the flow of three rivers to construct up to eight power stations. In all the James Bay II project would flood an area the size of Lake Ontario.
A parliamentary committee of the Quebec National Assembly held hearings on the environmental impact of the projects until June 1. Lise Bacon, Quebec's Minister of Energy, will issue a report this fall, when a decision will be made.