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Groups differ on dams, U.S. line

PUB hearing probes Hydro megaprojects

Keeyask Dam Hydro-Electric Generating station

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Keeyask Dam Hydro-Electric Generating station

It is either too much, too soon, or it is the best way to meet Manitoba's electricity needs and make a buck.

Those opposing opinions were made Tuesday to the Public Utilities Board as it nears the end of its three-month hearing into Manitoba Hydro's plan to build two new dams and a transmission line into the U.S.

They came from the Green Action Centre and the Manitoba branch of the Consumers Association of Canada in closing arguments to the five-member panel, who wrap up their hearing May 26. The PUB report is due June 20.

Manitoba Hydro's preferred development plan includes:

  • Keeyask (695 megawatts) Projected cost: $6.5 billion Construction to start this summer and it will be in full operation in 2021. Manitoba Hydro wants Keeyask built soon to take advantage of what it says are lucrative power sales to the American Midwest, which is seeing many of its old coal plants closed to cut emissions.
  • Conawapa (1,485 megawatts) Projected cost: $10.7 billion Target in-service date 2025. Hydro has already told the PUB it doesn't need a decision on Conawapa for about four years.
  • Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project: a 500-kilovolt AC transmission line to link with the Great Northern Transmission Line proposed by Minnesota Power. The projected in-service date for the 850-kilometre line is mid-2020. The estimated cost is $350 million. Under a proposal being studied by the Public Utilities Board, Manitoba Hydro will own 49 per cent of the U.S. side of the line with Minnesota Power owning the rest.

Peter Miller of the Green Action Centre says the environmental group supports the development of the Keeyask mega-generating station as soon as possible and the construction of the transmission line to Minnesota, a critical link to the American Midwest not only to export power, but import it when needed.

"The transmission is the key," Miller said. "That is what provides the benefits. We do not necessarily support Keeyask just as a stand-alone project, but this is all system opportunities and it greatly improves the hydro system in terms of the markets that it connects us (to) in terms of the reliability.

"If the northern transmission goes down, now twice as much can be imported to keep the lights on."

However, Miller said Hydro has not made the case why it needs the proposed Conawapa dam, especially with a more aggressive plan by Hydro to increase energy efficiency to make more power available for export. If domestic power demand increases after Keeyask is in service, Hydro should first look at more wind farms to meet demand before starting Conawapa, he said.

Gloria Desorcy of the consumers association said her organization is more critical of Hydro, saying it hasn't justified the need to build Keeyask and the transmission line to the U.S., never mind Conawapa.

Desorcy said rate pressures on Manitobans are too great for the PUB to recommend Hydro go ahead with its development plan.

Hydro has said it wants rate increases of 3.95 per cent annually until 2021 to carry out its building plan, which includes the new Bipole III transmission line to run from northern Manitoba to Winnipeg. However, the PUB held this year's rate increase to 2.75 per cent.

Desorcy said Hydro has failed to fully examine alternatives such as wind and solar power to building the two dams. It's also not proven the export markets in the U.S. will be profitable.

"Let's take the two years that we have before we really need to make a decision to get some of that information that we're missing," she said. "If it turns out that building Keeyask is still the best plan for Manitobans, let's do it with our eyes open and with the proper information."

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