Hydro-Québec’s Sophie Brochu wants to connect Maine and Quebec with clean energy and more.
Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu discovered her passion for the economics of energy as a university undergraduate and has spent her career committed to energy innovation and public service. She is equally committed to Maine, where she has spent a portion of every summer until the pandemic. Charismatic, direct, and thoughtful, Brochu is revered as a leader and a mentor to women. She holds a deep love for the state and is committed to broadening the relationship between Maine and Quebec.
Where did you grow up, and how did your upbringing and education impact your choice of career?
I grew up in Lévis, Quebec, about two hours from Jackman, Maine. I was lucky to be raised in a family with very clear values regarding people. Being respectful was important. My mother would have loved for me to wear dresses, but I was a little tomboy. She respected that and didn’t try to change me. At Université Laval in Quebec City, the last undergrad course I took was on the economics of energy. I fell in love with the topic. The professor talked about the world, including the important issue of how we can responsibly develop resources. This brought me back to the values I had been taught as a child, which also included, “Do what you want, but do something that you’re passionate about.”
What have been a few of your most rewarding career experiences?
In 1987, the summer before graduate school, I was on my way to interview to be a waitress on an excursion boat. I was passing the offices for SOQUIP [Société Québécoise d’Initiatives Pétrolières], so I stopped in and asked them if they needed anybody. I never went to the interview. I was at SOQUIP for 10 years and was responsible for developing the natural gas network in the province. There weren’t many women, but it wasn’t striking to me because I had always been among the boys—I didn’t want to be one of them, but I was comfortable there. I moved on to the company that distributes natural gas in Quebec, Énergir, and became president and CEO in 2007. That was fantastic because I was able to work on projects involving wind and solar in Quebec and in the U.S., notably in Vermont, and with people in both countries who shared the dream. That’s how I got into renewables. In English you say “serendipity,” and I found a lot of it. I define happiness as doing what you like with the people that you like at the place you like.
“What I have become and how I view creating a life and way of living—a very large piece of it comes from Maine.”
You cancelled a long-awaited sabbatical to take the top position at Hydro-Québec in April 2020. Why?
The job had been offered to me five years prior, and I declined because I felt committed to Énergir. In 2020 I had given Énergir two years notice of my departure. My goal was to take a sabbatical to teach and study. Hydro-Québec called me in March, at the onset of the pandemic. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we felt something bad was on the verge of evolving. I thought, like so many others, “What can I do to help?” I felt I had to put my shoulder to a bigger wheel than myself.
What do you love about Maine, and how do you spend your time when you’re here?
As long as I can remember I’ve gone to Maine every year. My parents would set aside a few days every summer to bring my brother and me there. I came to dream about Maine, about making sandcastles, eating an ice cream on the wharf, running after my brother. I met my husband when I was 17, and we started to go to Maine together. When I’m there I don’t do much. I might play golf at Webhannet or Cape Arundel Golf Club. When we have the good fortune to rent a place, we buy fish and go to the local market and cook at home. I have insomnia, and when I want to go back to sleep, I imagine myself on an Adirondack chair looking at the ocean in Cape Arundel. There is no place like Maine. It is a paradise.
What are your personal goals for the company, and what are your plans for a long-term partnership between Maine and Hydro-Québec?
Quebec and Maine share hundreds of years of history, citizenry, trade, and culture, and one of the rewards of being at Hydro-Québec is being able to craft a relationship between our two societies. We’re going to be working together on a project that creates jobs, brings in high-speed broadband to places in Maine and Québec that don’t have it, and establishes a framework for clean energy transition, including charging stations for electric cars. A dream I have is that those relationships will develop into other spheres, such as science and culture for example. In many areas we have so much to share.
What is something that no one knows about you, but you wish they did?
Perhaps that the four year-old girl, sitting on a beach in Wells, helped shape who I am today. What I have become and how I view creating a life and a way of living—a very large piece of that comes from Maine.
Learn more about Hydro-Québec at hydroquebec.com.