Here in Quebec, our hydro-electricity is so abundant that we have the cheapest rates in North America (which is also a factor the provincial gov’t uses to keep us in the “have-not” calculus, to keep Federal transfer payments flowing into Quebec rather than to provinces that do need more than we do, like the Maritimes. But that’s another story…told by someone else). So why, when the valleys are already flooded, ecosystems lost, and resulting methane production dwindling, would anyone here care about electricity usage? It’s renewable, and it’s the best in Canada (therefore, North America) for GHG emissions. We seem to have done a few things right, right?
But wait. As more people move to the cities [that is, fail to move back to the regions when they should], the draw on the power grid increases, as does the need for power line transport [aside: when are we going to stop mowing the trees beneath them, when we could be planting managed stands and orchards instead?]. That power still needs to come from somewhere, because the cities are not doing the math for themselves to keep the demand steady-or-less as efficiency supposedly increases, or supply more of their own.
HydroQuebec does not load-balance the demand with consumer participation by using electricity at preferred rates after businesses close down for the evening. And HydroQuebec does not have many incentive programs to help people switch to off-grid electricity generation (though, unbeknowst to many, it finally established a net metering option for self-generators
to feed power back in.) The kicker is that cheap electricity is practically designed
Which is objectionable, when we could be making more money if we were more conserving. HydroQuebec exports its power to Ontario, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, where non-hydro sources are still used: nuclear, coal, other. So, if we collectively cut down our electricity consumption, HydroQuebec is encouraged or obliged to make better deals and improve long-distance transmission efficiency to other markets. This would mean that fewer mountain top habitats in Appalachia (which extends into Quebec, by the way) would be blasted into oblivion in order to get at the coal. And if we help load-balance by only running the laundry and dishwasher and taking baths or showers at night (and not run our electronics 24/7), it would send further into the future HydroQuebec’s new construction projects for sources of electricity to meet peak demand, including very harmful ones like biomass – because they mean forest litter, and not garbage or sewage digestion, which would be far better used to feed into Gaz Metropolitain’s supply chain, which instead comes from Alberta. The land of Mordor (tar sands) and Mammon (greed and extreme self-interest).
Almost irrelevant to our consumption in Quebec, but something we should all know anyhow: the planned life span of an electric plant is 50 years. There is only a 2% turnover rate of existing electric plants per year, but plants that are turned over can be – and hopefully are – upgraded to the greenest technology available. Still it’s a sobering thought, for every new plant installed. In China, one new coal-fired plant goes online every two weeks. (Source: A Geography of Hope, Chris Turner)
What you can do to meet the mandate
So where does the homestead fit in with this? With the recent blizzard that swept through Montreal, leaving about two feet of snow, I had an ample draft of -10º air coming in, to track down the cracks and seal them (direct effect of sloppy construction inspection
related to the side effect of cheap electricity in the 1980s). I wrapped my AC unit in window plastic on the inside and duct-taped it on the outside a few days ago – I was the one who installed it and it was evidently not the best unit for the job nor the best result of a difficult job, so I will be getting rid of it at some point. This is one source of cold air getting into the walls at the back, but there was a bad job done insulating the front of the house where the second floor overhangs my front porch. I have to keep that bedroom door closed, to keep its cold air from taking the heat from the rest of the house.
I went to the hardware store Thursday morning and picked up these little plug seals, and applied the insulators to them like I had done to all the electric outlets I flipped this summer. I then sealed all the electric outlets. Electric outlets are a major cause of drafts and loss of heated air, and I wish more apartment dwellers would make this small investment (probably $20 to kit out a large one-bedroom apartment) and reduce their heating bill in turn.
Today, the temperature difference between the cold bedroom and the rest of the house feels less extreme.
There is at least one other electricity-saving post coming down the draft line, and it will underscore the real difference you can make in being more energy-conscious. I will be mathing on the blog! How exciting.
In the meantime: Wear an undershirt. Put on a sweater or a housecoat and slippers. It’s winter, and we’re not in California. The better your clothes, and the lower you keep your thermostat (18º-20ºC – lower overnight, or while away), the less rude winter actually seems when you venture between home and away. Animals habituate to the cold, and so do we.