The governors of five New England states crossed over the border to this French-speaking Canadian province recently to give strong encouragement to Quebec's plans to expand its production of hydroelectricity.
The irony that the conference in this riverfront capital earlier this month occurred as world oil prices were tumbling to previously unimagined lows did not go unmentioned, nor did it appear to be any significant deterrent to the governors' interest in buying additional electricity from Canada.
"Our major concern, as you can well appreciate, is to have a long-term, stable and reasonable source of energy," said Vermont Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin. Kunin recalled with a trace of bitterness how residents of then-high-flying oil states in the southwestern United States had once boasted on bumper stickers "Drive 75, Freeze a Yankee," adding that she had not been able to work up sympathy for their current plight.
"As we could not predict today's oil prices, neither can we predict next year's prices. What is George Bush going to say next? Is this merely a correction, or an aberration? Will OPEC get its act together after all?
"A first interest, in my view, is that we have -- and I speak for the State of Vermont -- a continuing interest in securing further Canadian power."
There were similar encouraging comments from the governors of Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut, who are faced with rapidly growing economies and demand for energy and strong public resistance to nuclear power as well as considerable opposition to other plants as New England attempts to get away from its dependence on oil-fired facilities.
Hydro-Quebec, the mammoth utility here, already sells surplus energy to New York and New England, including about 9 percent of New York's overall consumption and about 20 percent of Vermont's peak demand.
This summer, New England is to begin receiving additional energy under an agreement between the New England power pool and Hydro-Quebec.
Major electricity deals involving Canada and New York and New England date back to the aftermath of the 1965 power blackout in the northeastern United States. Since then, more interconnections have been built between Canadian and U.S. systems. There are more than 100 transmission lines between Canada and the United States and more are planned, according to Robert O. Bigelow, vice president of the New England Electric System.
On the Pacific Coast, there are ties between British Columbia and the State of Washington. British Columbia has expressed strong interest in selling electricity to California. In the center of the two countries, the government-owned hydroelectric utility for the Canadian prairie province of Manitoba recently signed contracts with Minnesota and other Middle West states.
Georges Lafond, executive vice president of Hydro-Quebec, told New England governors and utilities here that the surplus electricity Quebec now sells to New York and New England will diminish sharply over the next decade as anticipated demand grows here in Quebec. That was the windup for his pitch for New England contracts to purchase power from Hydro-Quebec's hoped-for vast expansion of its hydroelectricity city at James Bay.