During the past fifty years, Canadians have seen many of their white-water rivers dammed or diverted to generate electricity primarily for industry and export. The rush to build dams increased utility debts, produced adverse consequences for the environment and local communities, and ultimately resulted in the layoff of 25,000 employees. White Gold looks at what went wrong with hydro development, with the predicted industrial transformation, with the timing and magnitude of projects, and with national and regional initiatives to link these major projects to a trans-Canada power grid.
Karl Froschauer examines five major hydroelectric projects -- Niagara Falls (Ontario), Churchill Falls (Labrador), James Bay (Quebec), the Nelson River (Manitoba), and the Peace River (British Columbia) -- applying a political economic perspective that unifies his analysis of patterns of hydro development in Canada. He points out that in the 1960s and 70s federal and interprovincial conflicts over transmission line ownership, hydro plant investments, extra-provincial authority, and export agendas undermined several national and regional power grid initiatives. He then argues that if the provinces had chosen to integrate their power project within a national electricity network, substantial technical, economic, and environmental advantages could have resulted. Instead of providing the infrastructure for a national power grid and serving as a force for indigenous secondary industry, the provincial expansions of Canada's hydro resources have merely fostered continued dependence on branch-plant industrial development and staples export and have created vast surpluses of electricity for continental, rather than national, use.
Meticulously researched and documented, White Gold is the first comprehensive study of hydroelectric power development in Canada. Its useful analytical framework and provincial comparisons illuminate and critique the path of development over the last century and offer lessons for the future.