A Swedish hydro-power expert has given a thumbs-up to Manitoba Hydro's next big dam in northern Manitoba.
Bernt Rydgren's report is far from the final say on the estimated $6.2-billion Keeyask generating station project, but Hydro maintains it goes a long way toward demonstrating the Crown utility has set a new globally recognized standard in how large hydroelectric projects are developed and built.
"It is internationally recognized as a prime example of sustainable development in action," Hydro vice-president Ken Adams told the province's Clean Environment Commission earlier this week in providing a brief overview of Rydgren's report.
"Keeyask continues to follow what is still a fundamentally new and different approach to development of Manitoba's hydroelectric resources."
Adams is also chairman of the Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership (KHLP) and president-elect of the International Hydropower Association (IHA). Keeyask is being developed in partnership with four First Nations most affected by the project -- Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Fox Lake, War Lake and York Factory.
Rydgren and his five co-assessors, three affiliated with the IHA, conducted their assessment of the project over a period of about six months starting in August 2012. Keeyask was the first project to be reviewed in North America under what's called the hydro-power sustainability assessment protocol, which was developed by the IHA and organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Transparency International, Oxfam and the World Bank.
Rydgren and his team had access to project documents, Hydro staff and First Nation partners and travelled to the site near Gillam.
Topics in their assessment included communications and consultation, governance, water quality, cultural heritage, project siting and design and erosion and sedimentation.
The CEC is hearing evidence for the next six weeks on the environmental impact of Keeyask to decide whether to recommend the province issue an environmental licence. The economic feasibility of the dam is to be studied by the Public Utilities Board in the new year. Hydro and the province say the 695 megawatts to be produced by Keeyask is needed to meet growing domestic demand for electricity and to meet future export commitments to the United States.
The assessors said where the Keeyask project fell short was in ensuring labour and working conditions are consistent with international labour rights, spelling out anti-corruption criteria in contract documents and addressing public health conditions in the affected First Nations communities, conditions they said are "related to the legacy of Canada's historical treatment of First Nations, including previous poorly managed impacts of hydro-power developments."