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Saudek: Remembering Jacques Guevremont

01/22/09 5:55PM By Richard Saudek
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(HOST) Commentator Richard Saudek, a Montpelier attorney who was Commissioner of Public Service in the Snelling administration, remembers a man who - for thirty years - sold Vermont one-third of it's power supply.

(SAUDEK) The history of Vermont power supply is a history of bold strokes: In the 1950s and 60s, George Aiken arranged for a large bloc of hydro power from New York; in the 70s, Albert Cree, president of Central Vermont Public Service, led the charge for Vermont Yankee, which supplies one-third of our power; and in the 1980s, we were the first state to tap into the enormous hydro resources of Quebec.   

Cree and Aiken were major figures in their day, and their memories live on.  But last November, a third important player in this history died with no public recognition of his passing.

Jacques Guevremont was the brilliant, arts-loving executive vice president of Hydro-Quebec - the man most responsible for the fact that for a quarter century Vermont has had the cleanest, most reliable power supply in the Northeast.  

By the early 1980's, Hydro-Quebec had completed two enormous hydroelectric developments at Churchill Falls in Labrador and on the LaGrande River, which flows into James Bay.  Together they provided more than 21,000 megawatts of hydro generation - equal to the entire electric needs of New England at that time.  Although they were controversial because of their size and their effects on Native lands and activities, they were undeniably a stunning feat of foresight and engineering that could provide North America with renewable energy for decades.  

Hydro-Quebec gave Guevremont broad authority to make substantial power deals with Quebec's neighbors in both the U.S. and Canada, where utilities were facing unstable oil prices and nuclear cost overruns.  
In 1983, Guevremont and I negotiated Hydro-Quebec's first firm power export contract - a ten-year, 150-megawatt deal with the Vermont Department of Public Service.  A second contract, to run more than 20 years beginning in 1995 now supplies one-third of Vermont's electricity.  He followed the Vermont deals with large contracts with New York, New England, Ontario and New Brunswick.  

But Guevremont felt that these transactions were part of a larger relationship and should be supplemented by additional ties between Quebec and its customers.  So he saw to it that Hydro-Quebec made significant contributions to the arts, including support of the Vermont Mozart Festival, the Flynn Theater and other Vermont arts organizations.  He made it a priority to nurture young, promising musicians, drawing on his own sensibilities as a first-rate amateur pianist.  He planned and presided over these cultural events with the same care and attention to detail that he applied to contract negotiations.  

Three generations of governors - Snelling, Kunin and Dean - and every Vermont power executive - knew him simply as "Jacques," a man who made good things happen, from power deals to the arts.
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