WaterPower Canada President Interviewed by Hydropower Foundation

“An Update on Waterpower Canada”

By: Bree Mendlin, Program Director, Hydropower Foundation
“Six out of ten Canadian homes and businesses are powered by clean and renewable waterpower,” says, Anne-Raphaëlle Audouin, President & CEO of WaterPower Canada. That is a staggering number!  In the United States, natural gas is the top producer of electricity accounting for 38% of consumption in 2019.₁ While renewables accounted for 18% of demand, with hydropower at 6.6% of the renewable energy make up₁. Look to the North though, and it is a different story.  I recently had a chance to have a discussion with Anne on some of the similarities and differences the U.S. and Canada have when it comes to hydropower. One of the greatest takeaways I have from our conversation is how much they rely on hydropower to ensure that their lights stay on and the fact that this has been the case for more than 130 years.  Our discussion included a range of diverse topics such as, the impacts of COVID-19, environmental standards and Canada’s position on the Paris Accord, women in waterpower and workforce development.
Waterpower Canada in Review.  So, let me start with, who is Waterpower Canada?
Though it may be a fairly new name, the organization has been the national trade association for the hydropower sector for many years.  Formerly known as the Canadian Hydropower Association (CHA), it was born in 1998 out of the need to advocate for a national price on carbon.  The association has now grown to represent 60% of Canada’s total electricity mix.  The “carbon price original mandate” has evolved and so has their focus.  Today, promoting Canada’s clean energy future, the electrification transition, climate action, policy monitoring and general public awareness are the association’s main priorities.

As the national trade association representing the waterpower industry, WaterPower Canada gathers a unique group of industry players, comprised of the country’s largest utilities as well as Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and private sector companies providing goods and services to the sector.  Their recent name change was based on a need to refresh the association and bring more clarity regarding its mandate.  Anne shared that they conducted a national survey which revealed that many Canadians did not necessarily associate the word ‘hydropower’ with water, which was causing some confusion. After analyzing the survey results, their Board elected to simplify the association’s name, going back to the pure definition of the technology, which is to use flowing water to make power, across Canada. WaterPower Canada was born. The Hydropower Foundation can certainly relate to the importance of branding, and has also undergone rebranding efforts by changing the name from Hydro Research Foundation to Hydropower Foundation to better encompass all of the important work we do around education and workforce development within the hydropower industry, as we do so much more than research alone.

COVID-19 –

Like the rest of the world, WaterPower Canada too has been touched by COVID-19.  Their 2020 Conference was scheduled for October in Toronto.  As the situation was developing, they re-assessed weekly, worked with their venue and service providers, and began assessing options, which ultimately led to the in-person conference being deferred to 2021 in Ottawa.  An all too familiar story, as many associations, the foundation included, have been forced to make the same decisions. Despite postponing the in-person event, they also decided to maintain their 2020 annual event, albeit in a virtual format, during the week of October 5-9, 2020.  Operating in a new environment, the Canadian association is up to the challenge.  They have incorporated interactive features and are excited for the new opportunities the virtual option presents.  Anne explained that keeping the original vision that was focused on the future of hydropower in Canada, including modernization and refurbishment, continues to be of great importance, and is not lost in their current planning.  However, the onset of COVID-19 poised some significant challenges to delivering on that vision.  With that said, this determined CEO is confident they are well prepared, have responded well to the unique circumstances of the day and will deliver an outstanding event in the fall.  The challenge provided an opportunity for many lessons learned as well that will prove useful in addressing potential future situations.  It tested their ability to respond and to think outside of the box in using today’s technology to deliver a comparable and valuable experience.

Going into the planning for 2020, a major goal was to build on the huge success of the 2019 Conference.  Attendance was the highest ever and the content well received by industry members.  Anne attributes much of its success to the rebranding efforts, the introduction of a pan-Canadian trade show (the only of its kind in the country) and the focus on building a rejuvenated awareness about hydropower in Canada.  The conference has proven to be more than just a conference.  It has served as a catalyst to raise the profile of the waterpower sector nationally.  As the national trade association for all Canadian hydropower, Anne and her board of directors wanted to ensure that their Association’s conference offered not only learning and networking opportunities, but also provided a platform for climate action and electrification discussions. What differentiates the WaterPower Canada Conference from other events is that this is the only event that gathers major utilities and Independent Power Producers from across the nation. While other events have a provincial focus and deliver great value at the regional level, WaterPower Canada is viewed as the must attend annual event where the Canadian industry networks and connects. The results from their 2019 new approach proved the risk was worth it — they more than tripled their event revenue and their attendees.  Anne is confident the momentum will extend into 2021 onward when they return to the concept of an in-person event anticipating that the COVID crisis will be behind them. Learn more about WaterPower Canada’s upcoming WaterPower Week: https://conference.waterpowercanada.ca/

Environmental Standards. Much has been said about Canada and its laws on environmental protection.

Anne and I had a chance to discuss Canada’s regulations around environmental protections and the misunderstandings many conservation groups have had about Canadian environmental legislations, sometimes viewing them as less stringent than in the U.S.  Anne explained that this really is a misconception that rests on erroneous facts. For example, in its 2020 Environmental Performance Index, Yale University ranked Canada’s overall performance at 20, out of 181 countries evaluated (the U.S. ranked at #24). As for environmental legislation in particular, the EPI revealed that Canada’s regulatory quality was amongst the best in the world (scoring 71 out of 100, compared with 69.3 for the U.S.). That being said, there is always room for improvement and the Canadian government is working hard at protecting its land, the various ecosystems it hosts and species at risk in particular.  Currently, it takes a green field hydropower project 12-18 years to get permitted, constructed and into operation due to the heavy regulatory process.  This is further evidence that environmental protection laws in Canada are far from lenient.  In addition, Canada has moved forward with great ambition on climate policy.  Climate Change criteria are now part of the new Impact Assessments Act (previously, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act).  Canada is aiming for a net-zero emission profile by 2050. With an electricity sector that is already 80% non-emitting thanks to 60% hydro, 15% nuclear and 5% other renewables, the country is in an enviable position to reach its climate targets.  If Canada were to fully leverage its hydropower resource, they could indeed reach that goal very quickly.  Anne further explained that Canada is blessed with an abundance of water which lends itself perfectly to a lot of varying types of hydro with tremendous growth potential.  The key hurdle for Canada is that the electric demand has plateaued.  With no new demand, the growth of new projects is simply not on the horizon.  The main key to unlock new opportunities resides with decarbonization and specifically, the electrification of the Canadian economy. According to WaterPower Canada’s research, if only 25% of the waterpower untapped resources were developed, this would be enough to power all of Canada’s light duty vehicle fleet, with lots of electricity left to send to the US to electrify their own economy!

Unlike the U.S., Canada has stayed in the Paris Accord and is responding through new regulations.  Anne shared Canada’s view on hydro’s role in meeting it by stating how hydropower is valued within Canada’s climate strategy.  It has been an important part of the fabric within Canadian culture.  Anne noted, hydro has been around for 130 years. In 1891, the first hydropower plant was built, and hydropower continues to power the lights over her head in the Nation’s capital.   While hydro has played an important role for a long time, as in the case of the U.S., many people view hydro as a non-innovative technology.  They do not necessarily equate it to the new, clean technologies developed over the last decade or so, like wind and solar.   These technologies tend to be perceived as more exciting.  Canada is working to develop them as well.   Both wind and solar are growing in Canada, perhaps not as quickly as in the U.S.  That said, despite this growth, hydropower continues to provide the backbone of Canadian clean energy efforts, generating more than 90% of the country’s total renewable electricity.  Canadian hydropower is a powerhouse which can enable the clean transition.  Waterpower Canada continues to remind stakeholders, government, and the public that they need to value their first and original clean technology, hydropower, to ensure it is there for years to come.

Women in Hydro.

Work force issues are more than just hiring.  The challenge is also promoting diversity and inclusion.  There are a variety of organizations here in the U.S. and in Canada which promote women in hydro.  Anne shared that they too support programs and initiatives aimed at promoting the role women play within the sector and advocating for more involvement of underrepresented groups as well.  A few years ago, they partnered with “Women in Renewable Energy” (WiRE), a national non-profit that promotes the role of women working in the renewable energy sector.  Together they created the “WiRE and WaterPower Canada Women of Distinction Award” which recognizes and celebrates a professional woman working in the hydropower industry and has distinguished herself thanks to her professional accomplishments.

As a young woman in hydro, myself, it has been extremely encouraging to see an industry place such importance on ensuring women are successful and connected within the industry.  One way the Hydropower Foundation promotes women in hydro is through the Julie Keil Scholarship Fund, which is designed to support the advancement of women pursuing careers in hydro.  I shared how mentorship has been important in my own career.   Having the opportunity to learn that other women experience the same challenges and provide guidance on how to address these challenges has made all the difference.  I believe women struggle with the various roles they assume, such as mom, wife, workforce professional.  Anne agreed and stated that, she was not always plugged into the challenges that women face in the workplace, that is until her son was born.  In her opinion, the biggest challenge women face is accessing leadership roles while still being able to have a fulfilling personal life, involving parental leaves and needed family time. She wants it to be “the norm” to see women in leadership roles and encourages women to apply for these roles even if timing does not seem quite right, or if they think they are not qualified. Women tend to be their harshest critics and Anne wishes to hopefully inspire others to reach for senior executive roles.

Workforce Development.

Promoting more women to the workforce is a large issue that both Canada and the U.S. face, particularly in the electric industry.  While workforce development was not front and center within Waterpower Canada’s original mission, as in the U.S. Canada has seen a wave of baby boomers who have retired over the last 5 years and expect it to continue over the next 5-10 years. Ensuring diversity and inclusion within that workforce is a major challenge.  In fact, the Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC), which is responsible for surveying the industry and locating the exact matrix and statistics to identify women in the workforce, diversity, skills gap, etc.  The EHRC’s recent survey found some improvement, however, there is still a long way to go.  As is the case with many organizations, Waterpower Canada is incorporating a conference experience as a part of the training opportunities for the next generation.  The Association launched in 2019, its first Hack-A-Thon, sponsored by GE Renewables, to provide more exposure for hydropower to the student community.  Essentially, students brainstorm challenges during the conference and pitch their best answers to the industry.  The industry then selects the winning team.  Anne spoke of the tremendous success of the competition and the attention it brought to the importance of workforce development.  She was disappointed to have to reschedule this event to the 2021 conference after the success in 2019.  However, they are excited to continue to build the event into an annual competition.  Anne summarized the success of this new Hack-A-Thon by stating, “The best results are derived from an idea you then share with a community, expose that idea, connect essential partners and then implement.”

I could not help but share the Hydropower Foundation’s success around implementing our own Hydro Think Tank events.  Similar to Canada’s Hack-A-Thon, we provide students with a hydropower problem to solve and the students work to produce their best solution within competitive teams.  The Think Tanks have shown promising results with many of the students obtaining internships or employment within the industry. Programs like these are small steps, but a good beginning to the work that needs to be done.

In Conclusion…. Anne has been in her new role as President and CEO of Waterpower Canada for close to two years and it sounds like it is the perfect fit.  She is one of the few women CEOs in the energy trade association business and is making a huge difference.  She has loved the opportunity; she has a fantastic team and she loves working with her U.S. counterparts.  One of her goals is to advance the concept of continental hydropower – Canadian, U.S, and Mexican – and having a North American conversation promoting the sector.  Working together to advocate for more hydropower, our nations’ first renewable and clean energy technology, can become top of mind for everyone.  She is a huge believer in collaboration.  She is excited to continue the conversation within North America and discuss what is working here in the U.S. and learn how we can support each other.

National Conference2024 Canadian Waterpower Week

September 25-27, 2024 | The Westin Ottawa

This must attend event will bring together key decision makers, industry experts, policy and business influencers and offer opportunities to come together for an intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices, and pressing issues, all to enable a collective change.

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