Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/12/2010 (2390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The article East side preservation inspiring (Oct. 27) presents some useful information on the value of Canada's boreal forests, with particular emphasis on the area to the east of Lake Winnipeg. But focusing on single issues leads to a win-lose situation, even if it isn't necessary or realistic.
During the debate on this issue, one side seems to cry wolf about ecological disaster, while the other fumes about the excessive cost of the western route. This all-or-nothing tactic seems to have been imported from the U.S., and doesn't take the complexities of environment, economy and energy into account.
The real question should be: How can a hydro line be located through the east side without compromising a significant protected boreal region worthy of UNESCO World Heritage designation?
Implying it's a simple trade-off (ecological benefits on the east side, economic costs on the west) is an oversimplification.
The Oct. 27 article argues in favour of the east side boreal based on a study that calculated huge benefits from the boreal and peat lands from carbon sequestration, water purification and carbon storage (the latter estimated between $2.7 billion and $17.5 billion: a rather wide range).
These benefits would not go to Manitoba taxpayers, or to the First Nations affected. This is a general calculation of worldwide benefits, and subject to considerable debate.
To imply that a Bipole line through the region would eliminate that benefit is a serious misstatement.
The actual area directly impacted by the line would represent about .0000075 per cent of the region, taking the total area from the top of Lake Winnipeg to Black River on the west to the Ontario border on the east. Using the figure of $2.7 billion, the portion affected by the line would represent $20,200, which would gradually reduce as regrowth occurred.
The suggestion a Bipole line would lead to more development in the area is fallacious: where are the big industrial projects along the line through the Interlake?
Much of the argument in favour of the east side route centres on costs: somewhere between $410 million to $1.6 billion more for the west route: the lower figure is likely to be well below reality, although at the worst of the recent recession it might have been in the $600-million range.
Demand for manufactured components such as steel for towers and wire, as well as labour for construction, will come from other investments in the energy field, not the least of which is the massive expansion in the oilsands. Final costs with inflation will more realistically approach $1 billion.
Does this imply a lower profit margin on exported power, reduced "dividends" for the Manitoba government, increased "taxes" through higher power rates for Manitobans, all of the above?
There is a good case for protection of a large part of the east side, particularly the upper reaches of the watersheds where there is no significant industrial impact, beyond atmospheric effects. In this respect, the east side boreal and its Ontario counterpart have unique features for UNESCO consideration.
The first step, however, is to identify the actual core area and the nature of protection it should receive. This could be done under provincial legislation by both governments. Delineation of such a region needs to take into account the fact that large First Nations communities are located in the area, and consideration needs to be given to protecting opportunities for their livelihood.
Demographic projections of existing population structures suggest that some 2,000 jobs will be needed in the next 12 years to accommodate the growth in labour force from the entrance of younger people now over age six.
Protected areas are not known as large job generators, and seasonal jobs in the tourist business do not pay particularly well.
The western route would impact the same distance through boreal, plus major impacts along the internationally significant migratory bird flyway from The Pas to Winnipeg, especially the marshes near The Pas (Summerberry), and Big Grass Marsh and the pothole areas west of Lake Manitoba.
These are prime nesting and staging areas. Lines as proposed are notorious for killing large birds such as ducks, geese, sand hill cranes and raptors. For example, studies show that 25 per cent of whooping crane deaths result from strikes with transmission lines. Ducks Unlimited has been notably quiet about this.
Syncrude recently faced a court decision of $3 million resulting from 1,600 ducks perishing in a tailings pond: that's $1,875 per duck! At that rate, 10.8 ducks being killed by collision with a transmission line would equal the impact on carbon storage foregone by an east side line, which is not on a flyway! What would a Canada Goose be priced at, or a Bald Eagle? Consider the implications for the large birds near a line along the west route!
The argument that Canada is below some other countries in numbers of World Heritage sites misinterprets the World Heritage Convention. It is not a contest among countries: some may never have a site nominated, and others may have only cultural sites. The objective is to recognize and protect places of international significance! Manitoba would be proud to have one, and the east side would be a good candidate, but it does not have to be done at the expense of another endeavour if all parties work together to accomplish both.
Recently, the CBC ran a clip where David Suzuki said to Jim Prentice, then Canada's environment minister, that perhaps it was time for environmental groups to take a more positive role in working with governments to solve mutual concerns. Rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach, what if all interested parties took the opportunity to facilitate both a truly magnificent World Heritage site and a Bipole line down the east side.
Failure to do this to date cannot be blamed on the World Heritage process: it just needs co-operation and trust at the local and provincial levels. Glib threats of unidentified law suits, ecological decimation and the like are not helpful, nor are understated or bloated cost estimates for the western route. It's time to drop the American confrontational approach and work out a respectful Canadian solution!
Jim Collinson is a strategic energy/economy/environment consultant, establishing his practice in 1994. He headed Parks Canada for five years, and before leaving the federal government, was responsible for Canada's State of the Environment Report. In the early 1970s, he managed the study team that reported on the social and economic impact of the Churchill and Nelson Rivers and Lake Winnipeg Regulation Hydro-Electric Project.