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Not too late to stop costly Hydro projects: opponents

An artist's rendering of the Keeyask dam. The Bipole III Coalition is calling on  Manitoba Hydro to halt its $34-billion expansion plans, including building the dam and Bipole III.

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An artist's rendering of the Keeyask dam. The Bipole III Coalition is calling on Manitoba Hydro to halt its $34-billion expansion plans, including building the dam and Bipole III.

Psst -- want to buy 170 Investors Group Fields? How about 340 MTS Centres?

The former chairman of the Public Utilities Board says Manitobans don't realize it, but those two examples are how much Manitoba Hydro's current $34-billion expansion plans and upgrades will cost the utility.

Graham Lane, who was acting as the so-called commissioner at what was billed as an independent inquiry into the utility's expansion plan organized by the Bipole III Coalition, called on Manitoba Hydro to put the brakes on the plans, including building Bipole III and the Keeyask dam.

"This is the largest government expenditure in its history," he said at the end of the one-day meeting Thursday in a conference room at a downtown hotel.

"Imagine the state of our roads if even a portion of this was spent on them... Hydro's plans need 78 years to pay off.

"Is this expense defensible and prudent? I say it is not."

The coalition, which came together in 2010, has been fighting the province's and Hydro's plans to run Bipole III down the west side of Manitoba instead of the utility's original decades-old plan to construct it east of Lake Winnipeg. The hydro line was relocated to increase the chances the area would be listed as a UNESCO heritage site due to its boreal forest and aboriginal culture.

Earlier, both Dennis Woodford, president of Electranix Corp., a Winnipeg-based company that consults with provinces and states about their hydro needs, and Garland Laliberte, the former dean of engineering at the University of Manitoba, made presentations arguing the utility's forecasts for power needs are too high and there are other, cheaper ways of providing electrical power in the decades ahead.

Woodford said the utility could save almost $1 billion by using existing transmission lines with upgraded converter stations, while Laliberte said Hydro could reduce electrical demand by making energy conservation a higher priority.

Woodford said instead of the 50-metre towers proposed to carry the energy to southern Manitoba from northern dams through agricultural fields, newly designed towers that are less than half as high could be erected to run beside existing or planned roads.

Meanwhile, coalition president Karen Friesen released two Hydro internal documents she said were leaked to her three years ago.

The reports include information that the loss of all three of the province's Bipole lines is one in 3,249 years for the west line, compared with one in 7,500 years if the line is in the east.

As well, the documents say it will cost more to compensate farmers to make way for the west-side route.

Out of 18 issues brought up, the report states the west side is the worse option for 14 of them.

Friesen said the documents make clear the decision to move the route -- which is 500 kilometres longer and costs $1 billion more -- was a government decision and not Manitoba Hydro's.

"It's never too late to turn back until the project is started," he said. "We need the public to realize what is happening here. Our hydro rates will double in the next 20 years."

But both Caedmon William Malowany, a spokesman for Hydro Minister Stan Struthers, and Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said the reports were reviewed years ago by the Public Utilities Board.

As well, former Tory leader Hugh McFadyen tabled them in the legislature in May 2011, and the party used the issue during its unsuccessful election campaign afterwards.

"It's been known for 20 years that a third Bipole was needed to bolster reliability and energy security," Malowany said.

"Over 70 per cent of Manitoba's power runs along Bipoles 1 and 2. If either of these go down due to a weather event, the costs will be $1 billion per week to our economy.

"We're not willing to take that risk."

Powell said "this is old news. Everybody has an opinion on the project."

"We are simply proceeding on the basis of the licences granted."

Powell said crews are already in the process of clearing land in the north to make way for the transmission line down the west side of the province.

Malowany said negotiations are still ongoing with landowners along the route of Bipole III but half have already committed to sign easements.

Liberal MLA and former leader Jon Gerrard said, after sitting in on a portion of the meeting, "It's important we have a look at options even at this stage."

Gerrard said even though the Hydro expansion plans appear to be a done deal, meetings like the coalition's Thursday are "valuable to hold just so we can continue to air these issues."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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