The Turcot interchange is far from being as green as the government claims. Much of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions during construction have been offset thanks to a controversial hydroelectric power plant project in India.
• Read also: The Turcot interchange will be green in a hundred years
Transport Minister François Bonnardel praised Turcot’s “carbon neutrality” this fall.
The builder of the exchanger, the KPH consortium, has thus chosen to offset three quarters of its emissions by buying carbon credits from a hydroelectric power plant project called Parbati 3.
However, our Bureau of Investigation has discovered several questionable elements associated with this project of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC).
Deforestation and damaged fields
This complex, like other hydroelectric power stations in the province of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, is criticized because the place is geologically unstable and prone to earthquakes and landslides.
Photo courtesy Sumit Mahar
“These projects are not only vulnerable, they also make the region more disaster-prone by exacerbating the impacts of existing hazards,” says Manshi Asher of the regional environmental research and collective action body, Himdhara.
“Massive construction above and below ground has not only caused deforestation, impacting biological diversity, but has also disrupted sensitive geology. This has resulted in damage to houses, fields, roads and has hit the livelihoods of the locals hard,” he adds.
Himanshu Thakkar, of the non-governmental organization South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, denounces for his part “a total absence of standards of transparency or accountability of those responsible”.
In April 2019, a trade union leader quoted in the daily Amar Ujala demanded an investigation after leaks occurred in a tunnel at Parbati 3.
The tunnel has also had to undergo major repairs three times since 2013, which led to closures lasting several months.
Local non-governmental organizations say the environmental studies that led to these projects were botched.
“These reports ignore [les risques] or propose mitigation measures that are never implemented or are inadequate to the extent of the problems caused,” adds Manshi Asher.
- Listen to Philippe-Vincent Foisy’s interview with Dominique Cambron-Goulet, journalist at the Quebecor investigation office, on QUB radio:
Corruption and collusion
In March 2021, an assistant manager of Parbati 3 at NHPC was arrested for collusion in stealing metal bars worth over $170,000.
Then in July, another NHPC executive was arrested for demanding and accepting an $8,000 bribe from a subcontractor working on another phase of the project. NHPC did not respond to our interview requests.
The power station of phase 3 of the project has been in operation since 2014. Phase 2 of the project, which includes a 31 km tunnel, has been still under construction for 20 years now due to numerous problems.
In May, four workers died there when a tunnel collapsed during drilling work.
Quebec does not care about follow-ups
While digging to follow the trail of GHG offsets emitted during the construction of the Turcot interchange, we discovered significant gaps in the green seal of the highway project.
The reconstruction of the Turcot interchange in Montreal, between 2015 and 2020, cost more than $3.7 billion.
The bulk of the site’s emissions come from the private conglomerate KPH, which built the new interchange. Thus, 125,000 tonnes of GHGs were offset by the purchase of carbon credits. However, we found that:
- The biggest share of carbon credits comes from a controversial hydroelectric plant in India;
- The MTQ has accepted that KPH-Turcot does business with a firm that has lost certification and refuses to be accountable;
- A quarter of the credits had not been cleared before our Bureau of Investigation pointed out this error to the Ministry of Transport (read on wednesday).
These shortcomings raise doubts about the seriousness of the MTQ’s approach, at a time when the Legault government is promising that the tunnel between Quebec and Lévis will be carbon neutral.
We revealed on December 1 that part of the site’s GHGs would only be offset in 100 years.
The MTQ does not comment
The MTQ gave carte blanche to KPH for the choice of GHG offset projects as long as the credits were certified by a recognized standard.
“The ministry did not have to decide on the projects,” explains spokesperson Martin Girard.
The controversial project in India is listed on the Verra registry which confirms that the GHG reduction is verifiable.
” [Verra] does not go so far as to verify whether the project has otherwise negative impacts for the community in the surrounding area,” says Jean Nolet, president of Coop Carbone and former climate change economist for the Government of Quebec.
In addition to not caring about the origin of the credits, the ministry also does not know how much this “carbon neutrality” cost.
“The total cost related to the purchase of carbon credits is included in the overall budget envelope of the contract […] by KPH Turcot. The amount is therefore not known specifically by the ministry,” confirms Martin Girard.
The MTQ also took responsibility for part of the Turcot site itself. He offset his own GHGs by planting trees along the roads.
In December, our Bureau of Investigation revealed that these trees will take 100 years to compensate for the pollution from the site. So far, only a third of the promised 51,000 trees have been planted.
– With the collaboration of Dominique Cambron-Goulet
Where are the 300,000 trees?
The carbon neutrality of the Turcot interchange was partly entrusted to a company that lost certification due to shortcomings in its tree plantations.
Initially, the KPH consortium had planned to offset its GHG emissions by partnering with NatureLab.World to plant trees in Quebec.
The company was then the only one in Canada with plantations holding the prestigious Gold Standard certification.
However, in March 2020, Gold Standard withdrew certification from NatureLab plantations following several compliance issues reported in a report by The Press in the fall of 2019. It was particularly a question of major flaws in the management and control of the plantations.
For example, the Saint-Bruno site was abandoned because the 13,000 black spruce trees planted did not survive. In Mirabel, 30% of the trees were dead.
To meet the requirements of the MTQ after this loss of certification, KPH then agreed with the ministry to buy the carbon credits of the Parbati 3 hydroelectric power station in India, again via NatureLab.
These credits are certified by a less restrictive standard.
However, the ministry continues to say that in addition to the carbon credits from the Indian project, “more than 300,000 trees have also been planted […] in a reforestation project in the greater metropolitan area.
Spokesperson Martin Girard mentions in particular the plantations of Saint-Bruno and Mirabel, which are nevertheless problematic.
In an attestation that NatureLab gave to KPH and which we obtained through an access to information request, it is not confirmed that 300,000 trees were planted, but rather indicates a “participation in the planting of 373,992 trees”.
Too hard to calculate
We then tried to find out how many trees were actually planted. Simon Tremblay of NatureLab first explained to us: “There is no carbon neutrality with trees, it is extremely difficult to calculate. »
Mr. Tremblay was to provide us with more details after a few checks. But the next day, the latter and the co-founder of the company, Luc Guimond, invoked a confidentiality agreement to refuse to answer our questions.
◆ carbon neutral
Being carbon neutral does not mean that there are no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is rather a question of offsetting the emissions produced by the purchase of carbon credits for green projects or by planting trees, for example. It is as if the GHGs of one were canceled out by the reductions of the other.
◆ Carbon credit
One carbon credit is equivalent to the emission of one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (C02). These credits can be purchased from projects that produce renewable energy, such as a wind farm or reforestation, for example, because they contribute to the reduction of GHGs.