Powerline: NHPR Series Looks at Origins of Clean Energy in New England

Nov 6, 2017

CONCORD, NH – The environmental benefits and human costs of clean energy; corporate power dynamics; and the treatment of native peoples are the weighty issues examined in a new, groundbreaking series of reports from New Hampshire Public Radio, starting Thursday, November 9.

NHPR’s Outside/In is a program and podcast devoted to exploring the natural world and how we use it. In a four-part series from Outside/In, titled Powerline, host Sam Evans-Brown and reporter Hannah McCarthy traveled to Canada to learn more about the complicated history of clean energy in the province of Quebec. Currently, hydropower from the large, state-owned company Hydro-Quebec travels south via a powerline through New Hampshire, eventually connecting to the New England electrical grid in Massachusetts. The Bay State is looking to double down on this strategy, by seeking   to pay for a second major connection to Canada. While Hydro-Quebec’s energy can help Massachusetts reduce its carbon emissions, the benefits of hydropower are much more controversial about 800 miles north of the Massachusetts border, where the power originates.

Visiting the far reaches of northern Quebec, Evans-Brown and McCarthy trace the history of Hydro-Quebec’s influence in the province, which stems from the 1960s when French Canadians began to assert their political clout in the region. As economic and cultural power shifted, the Quebecois began to build immense hydroelectric dams throughout the province. The changing landscape greatly impacted Canada’s native peoples (First Nations) - peoples who had lived on the lands since ancient times.

"The decisions we make about how to power our society are always fraught, but the move to look to Canada adds another layer of complexity to this equation," says Sam Evans-Brown, Host of Outside/In

"New Englanders are now being asked to evaluate projects that are far from home, part of a completely different historical and cultural context. We wanted to bring some of that context south, to American ears," said Evans-Brown.

The series tells the story through four podcast episodes:

Episode 1, called Masters in Our Own Home, discusses how “The Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s ushered in a new era of French-Canadian authority in Quebec, leading to the building of hydroelectric dams as a way for the Quebecois to retain control over the province’s economic assets. But economic expansion also impacted the first inhabitants of the lands: native peoples.

In Episode 2,  Project of the Century, the Outside/In team visits several First Nations communities where the power struggle with Hydro-Quebec played out in vastly different ways. One group – the Eastern Cree - negotiated a series of multi-billion dollar deals while the other – the Pessamit Innu - were not consulted and not paid when Hydro-Quebec built on their territory.

Episode 3,  Peace of the Braves, digs deeper into the ramifications of the Cree’s deal with Hydro-Quebec, exploring how litigation lasted for decades, and the lasting impact the conflict had on the Cree community. It also explores how today the Innu of today have learned from the past victories won by the Cree.

Episode 4 – the final, yet titled episode - explores the present-day realities of Hydro-Quebec’s past and future projects. The reporting team visits the company’s newest installations to see how the history covered in the previous three episodes continues to have ramifications today.

During the course of their six-month investigation, the Outside/In team traveled more than 4,500 miles, spoke to dozens of sources, and collected many hours of audio to gather perspectives on the decades-long interactions between Hydro-Quebec and its respective communities. The team also shot video and took hundreds of photographs in an effort to fully capture the story and create an immersive experience for listeners and online viewers. Tours of three hydroelectric facilities and a cutting-edge electricity research facility in Montreal also were part of the exploration. Challenges for the team involved the time-consuming task of translating interviews from Innu to French, and from French to English.

The first podcast episode of Powerline will launch on Thursday, November 9. The remaining three episodes will be available for download on subsequent Thursdays: November 16; November 23; and November 30. In addition, NHPR will air two broadcast specials of one hour each:

o   Episode 1 of the broadcast special will air Thursday, November 30 at 3 p.m., and again on Saturday, December 2 at 1 p.m.

o   Episode 2 of the broadcast special will air Friday, December 1 at 3 p.m., and repeat on Sunday, December 3 at 4 p.m.

Listeners can hear the four-part series by subscribing to Outside/In on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever they access podcasts. All of the Powerline reports and related digital assets will be available online at outsideinradio.org. Listeners and viewers can also learn more about Powerline through social media:

Twitter - @outsideinradio

Facebook – Outsideinradio

Instagram – Outsideinradio

Powerline is an outstanding example of the high-quality, enterprise journalism NHPR is committed to providing to New Hampshire residents and listeners beyond our borders,” said Betsy Gardella, President & CEO of New Hampshire Public Radio. “The Outside/In team started with a simple question: where do New Hampshire’s power lines come from? From there, the team took on a complicated issue that traverses many years and many communities. We took exceptional care to tell this ‘Canadian’ story from an American perspective, and we look forward to the conversation the series may foster on both sides of the border.”

###

About NHPR

Since 1981, NHPR has shaped the media landscape in the Granite State and beyond. Our mission is “Expanding minds, sparking connections, building stronger communities.” NHPR is broadcast from 14 different sites, making it by far New Hampshire’s largest (and only) statewide radio news service. Every week, NHPR is the choice of more than 177,000 listeners as a primary source of in-depth and intelligent news coverage, with thousands more viewing NHPR.org and NHPR social media sites. Each day, New Hampshire Public Radio delivers several hours of local news reported by its award-winning News Department. Locally-produced shows include The Exchange, Word of Mouth, The Folk Show, Outside/In and numerous podcasts. NHPR is the exclusive outlet for NPR News in the Granite State and broadcasts national weekly programs such as A Prairie Home Companion, The Moth Radio Hour, Wait Wait..Don't Tell Me! and This American Life.