An upcoming hearing into whether Manitoba Hydro should get the green light to build the Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations -- the two dams are estimated to cost $16.5 billion -- appears to be more of the same old, same old from the usual suspects.
A special hearing by the Public Utilities Board is to start as early this fall in what's called a Needs For and Alternatives To (NFAT) review. It was ordered by the Selinger New Democrats late last year.
Two new northern dams and the transmission lines that come with them are key to the NDP and Hydro's ambitious plan to sell more surplus power to the United States.
SSLqWe would normally testify as experts, but they didn't want to listen to us, so I'm certainly especially aggrieved by that'
The PUB will look at whether the two generating stations are needed and if there are less risky ways to supplement the province's energy needs, such as burning cheap natural gas in a new combined-cycle plant in western Manitoba.
University of Manitoba native studies professor Peter Kulchyski, who represents the new Manitoba Public Interest Research Group, said the PUB turning down his and three other aboriginal groups for intervener status does not bode well for the neutral NFAT hearing. The Manitoba Public Interest Research Group is made up of six academics and six community representatives who specialize in First Nations treaty rights and environmental studies.
"We would normally testify as experts, but they didn't want to listen to us, so I'm certainly especially aggrieved by that," Kulchyski said.
"It looks like, basically, that the PUB is listening to the same old people it always listens to... They need a little bit of life in there and some fresh blood."
He added his group and others are now looking at how they can combine their experts and concerns to still make a meaningful representation to the PUB panel at the NFAT review.
"It will allow us to cross-examine the people that Hydro calls and allows us to get our own access to documents and information," he said. "It basically allows a more meaningful participation in the process."
Kulchyski said one issue the Manitoba Public Interest Research Group would bring to the table is how aboriginal and treaty rights impact the economic and social arguments concerning the two dam projects, a concern he says the powers that be in the province haven't given much attention.
"Unpaid and unfilled treaty-right obligations actually become an economic liability that normally aren't put on the books, but sooner or later may be put on the books," he said.
Without examining this issue, on top of Hydro's other costs and liabilities, Kulchyski said, "sooner or later those will come back to bite them and they will play into the overall cost-effectiveness of the dams.
"Since 1982, we've been into a new constitutional regime and slowly governments are catching up on that, some of them more slowly than others," he said. "I think in northern Manitoba we've been quite slow."
The PUB said in its most recent order many of the issues raised by Kulchyski and the three other applicants were out of scope of the NFAT terms of reference, or duplicated issues raised by other, larger umbrella groups better positioned to advance them.
"The board will not approve funding for duplication of expert evidence and retention of consultants on common issues," it said.
The board also noted while three of the four applicants denied intervener status are aboriginal groups, status was given to MKO, an umbrella aboriginal group that has been in existence for 32 years as a non-profit advocacy organization representing approximately 65,000 treaty First Nations citizens in northern Manitoba.
"MKO is well positioned to represent the interests of First Nations in the NFAT review," the PUB said.
The PUB also said the four applicants could participate in the hearing -- dates have not been set -- if they seek a coalition with other approved interveners.