Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP, Hydro selling out Manitoba: Tories

Pitch for foreign holding raises hackles

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Manitoba's NDP is recklessly "Americanizing" Manitoba Hydro at the expense of Manitobans under its plan to build two new dams and a new transmission line to the United States, the Opposition Tories say.

As an example, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said Thursday the Crown utility wants approval to build and co-own a proposed transmission line that will run from Winnipeg to Duluth, Minn.

Under a proposal now being studied by the Public Utilities Board, Manitoba Hydro would own 49 per cent of the 500 KV transmission line, with Minnesota Power owning the rest -- the first foreign holding by Hydro.

"The fact is what we're guaranteed with here under the NDP's agenda is a power-aid program," Pallister said. "We get to do all the sweating up here and they get the juice down there."

The PUB has heard Hydro's stake in the line was needed so it would be upgraded, at Hydro's request, from the originally proposed 230 kilovolts to 500. The larger line would allow Hydro to ship more power into the Wisconsin market and import more power to Manitoba from U.S. utilities when needed.

The PUB was told earlier this week that under a confidential deal with Minnesota Power to build the transmission line, Manitoba Hydro -- at this stage -- will be responsible for 66 per cent of the line's construction and maintenance. That's because Minnesota Power does not need the full capacity of the line, so it only wants to pay for the portion it will use.

"The fact is Manitoba Hydro has entered into a commitment that obligates Manitoba Hydro ratepayers to subsidize U.S. purchasers of hydro," Pallister said.

Hydro's division manager of power sales, David Cormie, told the PUB despite Hydro's 66 per cent involvement in the 850-kilometre, estimated $775-million line, it's still a benefit to the utility because it provides it with an electricity pipeline into the American Midwest.

"Under the contracts dependent on the line, Manitoba Hydro's energy gets shipped first," he told the PUB.

He also said it makes sense to build a larger-capacity transmission line now, instead of a smaller one, because having to add another line to Minnesota in later years will be more expensive and more scrutinized by regulators.

Pallister also questioned Hydro's expectations, and the government's, that by building the proposed Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations the province will reap billions selling power to Americans as U.S. utilities close old, carbon-belching coal plants and add hydro power as part of state-mandated plans to use more renewable energy.

He said experts expected to testify at the ongoing PUB hearing will say Hydro's expectations are overblown.

The PUB is examining whether there are alternatives to building the $6.5-billion Keeyask and $10.7-billion Conawapa generating stations, and if the line to Duluth is needed. It's to file its report to government June 20.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2014 A6

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