POLITICS

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois pushes cheap hydo rates at Davos economic summit

01/23/2013 11:02 EST | Updated 03/25/2013 05:12 EDT
DAVOS, Switzerland - Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is hoping to use the prospect of surplus power from Hydo-Quebec to attract investors to the province.

Marois floated the idea on Wednesday after arriving in Switzerland to attend the Davos economic summit.

Marois will take advantage of the annual World Economic Forum to try to persuade political and economic decision-makers to spend in Quebec.

''We want to increase private investment in Quebec,'' she told The Canadian Press. ''It is a major strategy we have already begun implementing.''

And much of that investment is linked to hydroelectricity, according to Marois.

Hydro-Quebec estimates it will have 28.5 terrawatt hours of surplus power available to it by the end of 2020.

The provincial utility spends $500 million every year to buy back the surplus power, mainly because of dams and windmills built in the province in recent times at high cost.

''We have surpluses at the moment,'' Marois said. ''I don't see that as being negative...These surpluses are available to attract investment to Quebec. And I think that's a comparative advantage we have to use.''

The premier touted low energy costs and tax benefits in a speech that attracted Foreign Minister John Baird and Quebec business executives but few foreign investors.

Despite Quebec's efforts to attract investment by focusing on hydroelectric power, few concrete projects have emerged.

Smelters have so far been the main beneficiaries of special contracts that give breaks on electricity costs.

Marois also discussed projects involving data-hosting centres in which companies can subcontract storage of computer information storage.

While the Liberals were reluctant to back such ventures while they were in power because of the relatively small number of jobs created, the French company OVH has invested $127 million and created about 100 jobs in Beauharnois, Que., since it started last year.

Marois is scheduled to speak at a workshop in Davos on Thursday on responsible mining.

She is also supposed to meet later in the week with executives of various multinationals, including Volvo, Alcoa and Lockheed Martin.

As well, Marois is expected to take part in a discussion on how to close the economic gender gap.

The European trip will also see Marois visit London and Edinburgh, where she will meet with Scottish separatist leader Alex Salmond.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be in Davos this year, but Ottawa is represented by several cabinet ministers including Baird and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.