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Final decision coming soon on dams: Hydro

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A drawing of the planned of Keeyask Dam generating station.

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A drawing of the planned of Keeyask Dam generating station.

The time is coming soon for a final decision on building two new massive hydro-electric generating stations in the province’s north, Manitoba Hydro says.

In a massive document posted on its website late Friday, the Crown power utility argues the Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations are needed in the next decade not only to meet the province’s own energy needs, but to meet demands south of the border and to the east and west.

The entire document is Hydro’s Needs For and Alternatives To (NFAT) submission and it’s been filed with the Manitoba Public Utilities Board (PUB), which is in the process of scheduling a special hearing to see if the two dams are needed or whether there is something else — and less costly — that Hydro can do to meet forecasted demands.

"Our analysis demonstrates that continuing to develop our hydropower resources is in the best long-term interest of Manitoba Hydro customers and the province of Manitoba," Manitoba Hydro President and CEO Scott Thomson said in a statement.

"Our preferred development plan provides lower long-term rates for Manitobans, greater reliability and security of supply, superior environmental and socio-economic benefits and job creation for the province compared to other options and alternatives."

Hydro’s preferred plan is no surprise as it’s been the mantra of the ruling NDP for about the past decade. The Selinger government and the Doer government say while the cost of the two dams is high, the payoff to Manitobans through more export sales is bigger.

That’s based partly on the phasing out of older coal-burning plants in the United States and Canada and an increased pressure on both sides of the border to include renewable energy sources, like hydro-electric power, in total state, provincial and civic power supply.

Hydro’s game plan calls for the construction start for 695-megawatt Keeyask generating station in June 2014 and the first turbine to start spinning by 2019.

That will be followed up the 1,485-megawatt Conawapa generating station for a 2026 in-service date.

The forecasted price tag for Keeyask is $6.2 billion and Conawapa is estimated to cost $10.2 billion. Plus there will be an addition cost of running a new transmission line to the Minnesota border.

Hydro and the NDP’s vision for the future is not without critics. The Opposition Progressive Conservatives say the plan is too costly for Manitobans — it in part relies on a series of annual rate hikes to pay for it — and others say the government’s terms of reference for the NFAT review are too narrow.

There is also a fear the public won’t have adequate input in the NFAT hearing.

Hydro says its NFAT submission offers the most detailed review of future options for meeting Manitoba's electricity demand. It includes 15 different plans over 27 scenarios involving more than 400 cases. It also comes with a warning that because some files are so big (more than 70 MB) it could crash your computer.

"Do not attempt to download these files if they are beyond your computer's or internet connection's ability," Hydro says.

The full NFAT submission is here.

Hydro says alternatives to its dam-building plan include increased energy conservation by Manitobans, burning cheap natural gas to produce power, adding more wind farms and even importing power at peak times.

"The economic analysis in the submission concludes the preferred development plan (building the two dams) is more beneficial than an all gas generation plan by an estimated $600 per year for each Manitoba residential household averaged over the life of Keeyask," Hydro adds in the new release.

"The submission notes that the plan has flexibility to accommodate modifications should future conditions suggest that it is prudent to do so. In particular, the timing of Conawapa will be regularly reviewed until the construction start scheduled for 2018."

The PUB is scheduled to hold public hearings during the winter and spring of next year and is to issue a report to the Manitoba government by June 20, 2014.

The hearings will also not be cheap and will be paid by Manitoba Hydro. A recent PUB order outlines some of fees to be paid to interveners, consultants and lawyers:

The PUB has already warned parties involved in the NFAT hearing that it does not want overlap or duplication by witnesses at the hearing.

In particular; it also wants Hydro to focus on these main issues:

  • Plans that include 1,000 megawatts of wind energy in conjunction with combined-cycle combustion turbine natural gas generation;
  • the consequences of deferring or delaying building Keeyask and Conawapa;
  • detailed calculations of each plan, such as marginal costs and marginal revenue for each added generating source;

"Manitoba Hydro will provide a decision matrix that compares and contrasts all plans and scenarios by the factors utilized by Manitoba Hydro, together with the factors, the weightings and resulting assessments by Manitoba Hydro," the PUB has said.

"While Manitoba Hydro has explained its timelines to provide further alternative plans and scenarios, the board will expect Manitoba Hydro to be able to model such alternatives and scenarios to permit critical examination."

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