U.S. electricity trade with Canada is increasing, providing more economic and reliability benefits to both the U.S. and Canada, according to the latest “Today in Energy” brief posted today on Energy Information Administration’s website.
Although the amount of electricity imported over the Canadian border is a small part of the overall U.S. power supply, the transmission connections that link Canada and the U.S. are an important component of the electricity markets in northern states.
Overall, Canada is a net exporter of electricity to the U.S., and most of its power needs are met by hydroelectricity. Large hydroelectric projects in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have significantly increased the country's generation capacity. On a net basis, Canada exports electricity mainly to New England, New York and the Midwest states, while the U.S. exports electricity from the Pacific Northwest states to the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec.
Electricity trade between the U.S. and Canada benefits both countries. Customers in western Canada and in the U.S. Northeast can access low-cost hydropower resources from the other side of the border. Also, the Northeast Power Coordinating Council (NPCC), the Midwest Reliability Organization (MRO) and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) ensure that power flowing across U.S.-Canada transmission lines helps maintain the stability of the North American eastern and western power grids.
There are currently more than 30 power transmission linkages between the U.S. and Canada. During 2014, 60 companies in Canada exported 58.4 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity into the U.S., making up 1.6 percent of U.S. electricity retail sales and 10 percent of Canadian electricity generation. The largest exporters were Hydro-Quebec (16.4 TWh) and the Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board (8.6 TWh).
New England and New York accounted for 60 percent of the total electricity imported into the U.S. in 2014, and these imports represent 12 to 16 percent of the region's retail sales of electricity. New England imports its electricity primarily from Quebec. New York imports electricity from the hydroelectric resources in Quebec and Ontario, often on a flexible schedule as needed. New England's power generation sources have been shifting to natural gas in recent years, but the region also has been importing more of the hydroelectricity from Canada.
Minnesota and North Dakota imported 12 percent of their electricity from Canada in 2014.
The Pacific Northwest is a net electricity exporter to Canada because it has hydroelectric capacity that generates large amounts of electricity in excess of the region's need during high-water periods. This electricity helps Canada meet periods of peak demand.
Recent and proposed transmission projects have the potential to increase the amount of trade across the border. The Montana-Alberta Tie Line, completed in 2013, is a 230-kV line that allows for bidirectional flow of power primarily for new wind power generating units on both sides of the border. The Great Northern Transmission line is a proposed 500-kV project connecting Minnesota Power with Manitoba Hydro, which is intended to support development of wind resources in the upper Midwest. Developers hope to relieve transmission congestion in the New York City area by sending hydropower directly from Quebec via the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission project, which could bring up to 1,000 MW of additional power into the city.