ENVIRONMENTAL, TOURISM and recreational groups are accusing the provincial government and Canadian utility Hydro-Quebec, of sacrificing some of Quebec’s most pristine rivers and wilderness areas to score political points while generating small amounts of electricity.

The utility has proposed that small private energy producers build and operate 36 hydro dams on 24 of the province’s rivers. The developers will then sell the generated power to Hydro-Quebec, which in turn, would market it locally or across the border to New England in the US. If all the developments go ahead, it is anticipated that up to 425MW of hydro power will be generated.

A coalition of 25 environmental and tourism groups has submitted a position paper asserting that at least six of the proposed dam sites are on rivers in which Atlantic salmon spawn. Many others host hundreds of canoeists, kayakers, rafters and hikers. Aventure Ecotourisme Quebec has pointed out that artificial barriers have never before impeded many of the rivers targeted for damming. It is claimed that by damming the rivers, Quebec is damaging its natural heritage and tourism industry, which has much better potential for job creation than small hydro production.

If the plan proceeds, the small projects will begin coming on line in 2005. At least ten companies are expected to offer bids on the sites when bidding opens later this year.