In a landmark achievement, Hydro-Québec's Eastmain-1 development has earned the prestigious gold-level certification in adherence to the Hydropower Sustainability Standard. After an exhaustive 14-month independent assessment, this recognition underscores the project's commitment to sustainable practices within the hydroelectric sector.

The Hydropower Sustainability Council, responsible for overseeing this certification, awarded the gold-level distinction to Hydro-Québec's Eastmain-1 development after a thorough evaluation of its sustainability performance. This impartial standard evaluates hydropower projects across 12 crucial environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects, ensuring their compliance with stringent sustainability benchmarks.

Hydro-Québec initiated the certification process for its Eastmain-1 project in 2021. Nestled in the northern Quebec territory of the Eeyou Istchee James Bay Regional Government, this venture encompasses two hydroelectric powerhouses with a combined installed capacity of 1248MW.

The evaluation encompassed rigorous scrutiny, with three independent assessors meticulously reviewing numerous reports, scientific literature, and conducting site visits. Over 50 interviews were conducted with local stakeholders, including members of nearby Wemindji and Waskaganish Cree communities who play an active role in the project's environmental oversight. Other participants ranged from hydroclimatology and biodiversity researchers to local mayors and Hydro-Québec personnel.

“Respect for Indigenous peoples is a fundamental requirement of the Hydropower Sustainability Standard,” said Julie Boucher, Vice President – Sustainability, Community Relations and Communications at Hydro-Québec. “We are honored that the Cree communities that worked with us during the construction and environmental follow-up phases accepted to engage in the certification process.”

In a further move towards transparency, Hydro-Québec invited four environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) observers to participate in the on-site audit week held in September 2022. This commitment to openness garnered praise from Dr. Jian-hua Meng, representing the WWF on the Hydropower Standard's Governance Committee. This approach sets a precedent for industry accountability and transparency.

The Hydropower Sustainability Standard represents a milestone for the industry, incentivizing robust ESG performance worldwide in hydropower projects. By ensuring positive impacts on local communities and their surroundings, this independent standard, managed by the Hydropower Sustainability Council, enjoys recognition from civil society organizations and multilateral banks.

“All the renewable forms of energy that we need to use more of to decarbonize our economies carry baggage, so we need standards, whether it’s for solar, wind or hydro,” said Ashok Khosla, sustainability pioneer and Chair of the Hydropower Sustainability Council. “Hydropower, by itself and as a complement and supporter of intermittent energy options such as solar and wind, must be considered with objectivity and accountability as a key element in any meaningful transition strategy.”

Notably, Hydro-Québec's Eastmain-1 Development becomes the first North American hydropower facility to secure the Hydropower Sustainability Standard certification.