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Transmitting Canadian Hydroelectric Power to the USA via Submarine Cable

Feb 18, 2011 - Harry Valentine -

Canada has for decades, exported hydroelectric power from Quebec and from Labrador into markets in the northeastern USA. California has periodically imported hydroelectric power from British Columbia. A power transmission company based in Vancouver has proposed to install a submarine power cable along America's Pacific coast to carry electric power from British Columbia to California. A transmission development company in Toronto is formulating plans to install a submarine power cable under waterways that link Montreal and New York City, for the purpose of carrying hydroelectric power to that city from dams at James Bay.

A recent announcement from Newfoundland in Eastern Canada involved plans to carry hydroelectric power from Labrador to Northeastern American markets via submarine power cables installed under 2 straits along Canada's Atlantic coast. The province of Manitoba that has much undeveloped hydroelectric generating capacity along the Nelson River and Churchill River, has indicated the interest in exporting some of that power into Midwestern American markets at some time in the future. It may be possible to carry that power via submarine power cable installed under northern riverbeds, Lake Winnipeg and the Red River, with potential to extend the cable through the riverbeds of tributaries and over a short distance across land into the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Submarine power cables installed in the riverbed of the Mississippi River could connect to similar cables that carry power to cities such as Minneapolis-St Paul, Chicago, St Louis and Kansas City. However, Manitoba Hydro may only have enough undeveloped generating capacity (some 10,000MW) to meet up to 40% of future Midwestern American power requirements that may increase by up to 25,000MW by 2030. Midwestern American power providers may consider obtaining competitively priced Canadian hydroelectric power from Hydro Quebec, via one of 2 direct routes. A third indirect route would see a submarine cable across southern Hudson Bay linking the power dams of Hydro Quebec and Manitoba Hydro.

Montreal-Chicago link:

The is potential to install a submarine cable along the south side of the St. Lawrence River, between the navigation channel and the riverbank from Montreal to Lake Ontario. There is a canal along the south side of the Moses-Saunders power dam near Massena NY that may provide the submarine cable with a route around the power dam and the navigation locks. The cable may follow the south shore of Lake Ontario to any of several streams located to the west of Rochester NY, that have origins near the barge canal that connects Tonawanda NY to Syracuse NY.

That barge canal connects to the channel that carries water from Lake Erie to Niagara Falls and may carry a submarine into the south side of Lake Erie, where it may reach Toledo and Maumee River. The Maumee River connects into the Wabash River that has a tributary with headwaters located near the headwaters of a tributary of a river system that carries water to Chicago. The capacity of the submarine cable may provide potential to serve other possible power markets at Erie, Cleveland and Toledo.

While a submarine cable is possible between Montreal and Chicago, it needs to be a reserve option to a shorter and more direct route between the power dams of Quebec and Chicago. Mutually cordial and cooperate intergovernmental relations between New York State, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois would make such the optional southern route possible. Canadian politics will ultimately determine the route of the submarine power cable between Quebec and Chicago.

Direct James Bay -- Chicago Link:

A direct link between the hydroelectric power dams near James Bay and Chicago would cross over Ontario. It may involve submarine cables installed along the eastern shore of James Bay and in the riverbed of the Moose River and tributary the Missinaibi River that has headwaters near rivers such as the Magpie and the Whitefish that flow into Lake Superior. The cable would continue along the eastern shore of Lake Superior and under the navigation channel to the northern coast of northwestern Michigan.

There are several streams in northwestern Michigan with headwaters in close proximity that flow to Lake Superior and to Lake Michigan. Depending on the nature of intergovernmental relations between Illinois and Michigan, it may be possible to install submarine cables in such riverbeds. A submarine cable buried under riverbeds across northwestern Michigan may be extended south along western Lake Michigan to Milwaukee and Chicago. The overall distance between the power dams of Quebec and Chicago would match the distance between the power dams and New York City and be 1/3rd shorter than the link via Montreal.

Canadian Negotiations:

A direct connection between the Quebec power dams and Chicago would depend on future negotiations between Quebec and Ontario. Ontario wanted to purchase hydroelectric power from Labrador via a power line across Quebec, except that political differences between the governments of Quebec and Newfoundland precluded such an arrangement. A submarine cable under the Lower St. Lawrence River may be possible, given that that river is under joint jurisdiction of the both the Federal Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec.

Ontario may be agreeable to an American-owned submarine power cable connecting between Lake Superior and James Bay through rivers that flow across northern Ontario. James Bay is under Federal Canadian jurisdiction and there would be opportunity to negotiate to install a submarine cable under the seabed near the eastern shore of James Bay, to the a point where Hydro Quebec would provide a connection to their hydroelectric power dams. Quebec's willingness to allow Ontario to acquire hydroelectric power from Labrador would likely enhance prospects for a shorter link between Quebec's power dams and Midwestern American markets.

Lower St. Lawrence River Cable:

High-ranking officials of the Federal Government of Canada have indicated their interest in developing an east-west power connection across Canada. In this regard they may advocate and facilitate the installation of a submarine power cable from Labrador at the Strait of Belle Isle and upstream along the Lower St. Lawrence River to either the Upper St. Lawrence River or the Ottawa River. It is possible that influential political forces in Quebec may allow for a submarine cable to follow the bed of a river that flows from Labrador through Quebec into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Modern drilling technology allows for the drilling of circular conduits under the control dams along the river system, to allow submarine power cables to be "threaded" through the conduits. The submarine power cable may be routed to the Canadian side of the Moses-Saunders international power dam, from where it would connect to an upgraded overland power transmission line to carry electric power to Toronto. The submarine power cable may follow an alternate route up the Ottawa River (also under Federal Canadian jurisdiction) from Montreal to Ottawa, from where a high-density power line that is due for upgrading connects through to Toronto.

Political Opposition:

There is the likelihood of influential political forces using the judicial system to prevent the installation of a submarine power cable along the Lower St. Lawrence River that may carry electric power from Labrador to Ontario. Such action would undermine the credibility and authority of the Federal Government of Canada and serve the interest of secessionist political elements in eastern and western Canada. It would also leave Quebec with the option of a submarine cable carrying electric power from Montreal to Midwestern American markets using a longer southern route.

Ontario would be left with the option of purchasing Canadian hydroelectric power from Labrador via buried power cables installed along rail and roadbeds across the northeastern USA, to the Moses-Saunders power dam. However, the successful installation of a submarine power cable under the St. Lawrence River, between the Gulf of St. Lawrence to either the Moses-Saunders power dam or to Ottawa, would affirm credibility of the Federal Government of Canada. It would also provide Ontario with access to a source of competitively priced, renewable electric power from another region of Canada.


Labrador (Newfoundland) and Quebec are literally competing against each other in the export of hydroelectric power into northeastern American markets. Such competitive rivalry has undermined cordial intergovernmental relations in Eastern Canada. Ontario could offer an option for Quebec to export hydroelectric power to Midwestern American via a short route, provided Quebec allows Ontario to receive hydroelectric power from Labrador via the St. Lawrence River. Such an arrangement would maximize hydroelectric power generation in both Labrador and Quebec, giving American markets the option of competitively priced renewable electric power.

Updated: 2016/06/30

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