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Independent panel, not PUB, should rule on Hydro dams: Pallister

Conawapa

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Conawapa

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister warned Manitobans Tuesday to get more involved in Manitoba Hydro's $20-billion plan to build two new dams and a transmission line to the United States.

He said the Public Utilities Board is stacked with NDP government appointees and can't be trusted to make informed decisions.

Hydro's plan is now before the PUB, the provinces's regulator, in a special hearing that started Monday and has been extended into May. The PUB is examining whether the plan to build the Keeyask and Conawapa dams and the new transmission line makes economic sense.

Hydro has already signalled it doesn't need a decision on Conawapa right away, but needs the PUB's blessing to get moving on Keeyask and the new line as soon as possible. The PUB is to file its recommendations to the province by June 20.

Pallister said it would be naive to think the PUB can make an informed decision when it's filled with NDP appointees and is under the gun to file its report.

He said the government should strike an independent panel of recognized experts to study Hydro's plan without an artificial deadline.

"Do you seriously think this government is interested in depoliticizing the process and allowing experts to take a look at it when they are responsible for appointing every person who's looking at it?" Pallister said.

Pallister pointed to a recent Quebec decision in which an independent commission recommended Hydro-Québec shelve the $6.5-billion Romaine River project, already under construction, because there is no longer an export market for its electricity and it will never be profitable.

Pallister said the Quebec case is similar to Keeyask, and Manitoba Hydro's plan to sell power from it to the United States is based on shaky profitability assumptions.

"This is dangerous. The process is dangerous and the outcome is irreversible," he said.

Hydro Minister Stan Struthers said the Keeyask project is sound, as U.S. utilities have already pre-purchased all the available firm power from Keeyask under export deals.

"This means that from the first day Keeyask goes into operation, U.S. customers will be paying down the debt on an asset that will generate clean electricity for a century, keeping rates low for Manitoba families and businesses," Struthers said.

The last estimated cost of the 695-megawatt Keeyask was $6.2 billion, but Hydro will present an updated number to the PUB as early as this week. Hydro says it needs the green light on Keeyask to begin construction by as early as this summer.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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